Federal

February 8, 2017, Olympia, WA – Western lawmakers have proposed an amendment to the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act to help farmers understand which manure management rules they’re supposed to follow.

HR 848, the Farm Regulatory Certainty Act, would reaffirm and clarify Congress’ intention regarding manure management under the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976, also known as the Solid Waste Disposal Act. READ MORE

November 30, 2016, Washington, DC – The U.S.Department of Agriculture is seeking new proposals for cutting-edge projects to provide new conservation opportunities through its competitive Conservation Innovation Grants program.

The department will invest up to $25 million for projects sparking the development and adoption of innovative conservation technologies and approaches in areas such as conservation finance, data analytics, and precision conservation. READ MORE

April 1, 2016, Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced the winners of Phase I of the Nutrient Recycling Challenge – a competition to develop affordable technologies to recycle nutrients from livestock manure.

The winners received their awards at a ceremony at the White House Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, DC, the first day of a two-day summit with innovators.

Every year, livestock producers manage more than a billion tons of animal manure, which contains valuable nutrients – nitrogen and phosphorus – that plants need to grow. Manure can be a resource as a renewable fertilizer, but should be used properly to minimize water pollution and build healthy soils.

In November 2015, EPA launched the Nutrient Recycling Challenge in partnership with pork and dairy producers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and environmental and scientific experts. The goal of the challenge is to find affordable technologies that can help farmers manage nutrients, create valuable products and protect the environment.

“The Nutrient Recycling Challenge is a great example of EPA partnering with farmers to find solutions that benefit everyone,” said Ellen Gilinsky, senior policy advisor for the EPA’s Office of Water. “Through competition, together we are driving innovation to achieve environmental results.”

EPA received 75 concept papers from around the world and selected 34 submissions to continue on to Phase II of the challenge. EPA is awarding a total of $30,000 in cash prizes to the top 10 submissions (four Winners and six Honorable Mentions).

The following are descriptions of the winning concepts:

  • Slurry Separation with Coanda Effect Separator (by Ahimbisibwe Micheal of Bravespec Systems Ltd.) – Using centrifuge technology to separate smaller nutrient particles from manure, with fewer energy inputs and lower costs.
  • Manure Convertor (by Ilan Levy of Paulee Cleantec Ltd.) – Using chemical processes to rapidly turn manure into a non-toxic, fertile ash fertilizer.
  • Producing Nutrients Concentrated Bio-solids via AnSBEARs (by Bo Hu, Hongjian Lin, and Xin Zhang of the University of Minnesota) – Creating a dry biosolids fertilizer by using a novel anaerobic digestion and solid-liquid separation system.
  • Removal of Dissolved N and P from Livestock Manure by Air Stripping (by Hiroko Yoshida of Centrisys Corporation) – Using CO2 stripping and other processes to create a range of fertilizers from anaerobically digested manure.

The 34 selected submissions were also invited to the Nutrient Recycling Challenge DC Summit, in Washington, DC on March 30-31, 2016. The summit will provide a forum for innovators to meet experts and other innovators, as well as learn about resources to develop their ideas into real-life technologies. EPA seeks to create a “brain trust” that can design nutrient recovery technologies that can achieve what both farmers and the environment need.

Partners in the Nutrient Recycling Challenge are:

  • American Biogas Council
  • American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers
  • Ben & Jerry’s
  • Cabot Creamery Cooperative
  • Cooper Farms
  • CowPots
  • Dairy Farmers of America
  • Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy
  • Iowa State University
  • Marquette University
  • National Milk Producers Federation
  • National Pork Producers Council
  • Newtrient, LLC
  • Smithfield Foods
  • Tyson Foods
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • Washington State University
  • Water Environment Research Federation
  • World Wildlife Fund

For more information, visit www.nutrientrecyclingchallenge.org.

March 14, 2016, Washington, DC – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants input from stakeholders as it develops the framework for a risk assessment on the use of raw manure and other biological soil amendments of animal origin as fertilizer on produce farms.

This has been a controversial issue as the FDA proposed, and recently finalized, the Produce Safety rule mandated by the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA). The agency is concerned about the potential of raw manure and other such amendments to contain disease-causing bacteria. Growers see raw manure and other such amendments as an effective way to enrich the quality of their soil.

The FDA is planning to conduct a risk assessment to determine how much consumer health is put at risk by the use of raw manure as fertilizer in growing crops covered by the final Produce Safety rule, and what can be done to help prevent people from getting sick.

Before starting the assessment, the agency wants the help of stakeholders in the produce industry, the animal agriculture industry, academia and members of the public in developing the model for this work.

A notice published in the Federal Register requests public comments and scientific data and information, including information about how farms use raw manure and what strategies should be considered to reduce public health risk.

For more information:

 

In late February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced an investment of $25 million in watersheds across the country to help improve water quality.

According to the press release accompanying the announcement, the funding will help agriculture producers apply conservation measures in 187 high-priority watersheds – including 17 new ones – in hopes of improving water quality downstream.

The funding is available through the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) National Water Quality Initiative (NWQI), which works with farmers and landowners to implement voluntary practices, such as constructing filter strips, implementing nutrient management plans, and building terraces and buffers. The program has been in place since 2012.

Successful initiatives to date include Ohio’s East Branch South Fork Sugar Creek, one of the state’s most degraded watersheds. Eight farms own 75 per cent of the agricultural land within the watershed and have been working with their local soil and water conservation district to implement changes, including building waste storage facilities and covering animal feedlots plus manure storage areas. In Iowa, agricultural producers have been working to reduce phosphorus runoff into Walk Lake Inlet, part of Black Hawk Lake. So far, sediment runoff has been reduced by 1.630 tons annually and phosphorus by 3,544 pounds annually.

The NRCS plans to improve its water quality efforts in 2016 by introducing a new evaluation tool – resource stewardship evaluation – to help producers assess how their farm is operating, the value of the conservation projects currently in place and how they can improve their efforts.

Earlier in February, the NRCS also announced $720 million in funding through the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) for 84 projects across the country. Many of the projects involve providing assistance for livestock operators to help improve water quality, enhance soil health and protect agricultural viability.

Maryland and Delaware will be receiving $4.5 million for a joint project aimed at meeting TMDL goals within the Chesapeake Bay region. Conservation district staff in Maryland will be working with dairy farmers to install modern liquid separation technologies, reduce barnyard runoff and improve animal waste storage.

A separate project in Delaware is aimed at helping new poultry farmers gain access to composters or mortality freezers plus construct poultry waste structures and protect heavy use areas in a bid to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus leaching and runoff.

Minnesota plans to use part of its funding to assist feedlots under 300 animal units in meeting state and local ordinances in the areas of feedlot runoff and land application of manure.

If you’re interested in taking part in any of these projects or possibly gaining access to some of the funding available, I’d strongly suggest you contact your local soil and water conservation district or your state’s branch of the NRCS. Financial and professional assistance is available to manage your manure issues.

 

 

 

March 2, 2016 – As in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the federal government has stepped in to speed progress in the Gulf of Mexico’s water quality dilemma.

The EPA’s goal is reduce the size of the hypoxic “dead” zone by two-thirds by 2035. Ellen Gilinsky, the agency’s senior advisor for water, says that will require a 45 percent reduction in the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Mississippi River. READ MORE

September 21, 2015, Vermilion County, IL – A local cattle farmer is in trouble with the EPA. It says he's responsible for killing nearly 100,000 fish.

The EPA says a valve on a manure storage tank was left open, allowing it to drain into Stony Creek, which flows into the Salt Fork. Documents state the agency accuses the Fithian farmer of causing or allowing it to happen. READ MORE

August 17, 2015, Toledo, OH – Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur announced August 14 that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will invest an additional $5 million across Ohio, Michigan and Indiana to improve water quality in Lake Erie’s western basin.

“Science tells us that if we want to stop Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms, we need to drastically reduce the amount of harmful nutrients entering Lake Erie’s tributaries, especially dissolved phosphorous from animal livestock,” said Congresswoman Kaptur. READ MORE

June 8, 2015, Watertown, NY – The federal government is stepping in to make sure a manure lagoon near the Black River is safe.

State and federal agencies met with Watertown city officials just outside Watertown recently to discuss concerns about a lagoon being built 1,500 feet from the Black River to store manure. Officials are worried manure could leak out and contaminate drinking water, like it did in another county nearly 10 years ago. READ MORE

May 28, 2015, Washington, DC – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army announced May 27 they had finalized the Clean Water Rule.

The rule ensures that waters protected under the Clean Water Act are more precisely defined and predictably determined, making permitting less costly, easier, and faster for businesses and industry. The rule is grounded in law and the latest science, and is shaped by public input. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for agriculture and maintains all previous exemptions and exclusions.

“For the water in the rivers and lakes in our communities that flow to our drinking water to be clean, the streams and wetlands that feed them need to be clean too,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “Protecting our water sources is a critical component of adapting to climate change impacts like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures – which is why EPA and the Army have finalized the Clean Water Rule to protect these important waters, so we can strengthen our economy and provide certainty to American businesses.”

“Today's rule marks the beginning of a new era in the history of the Clean Water Act,” said Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy. “This is a generational rule and completes another chapter in history of the Clean Water Act. This rule responds to the public's demand for greater clarity, consistency, and predictability when making jurisdictional determinations. The result will be better public service nationwide."

Protection for many of the nation’s streams and wetlands has been confusing, complex, and time-consuming as the result of Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. EPA and the Army are taking this action today to provide clarity on protections under the Clean Water Act after receiving requests for over a decade from members of Congress, state and local officials, industry, agriculture, environmental groups, scientists, and the public for a rulemaking.

In developing the rule, the agencies held more than 400 meetings with stakeholders across the country, reviewed over one million public comments, and listened carefully to perspectives from all sides. EPA and the Army also utilized the latest science, including a report summarizing more than 1,200 peer-reviewed, published scientific studies that showed small streams and wetlands play an integral role in the health of larger downstream water bodies.

Climate change makes protection of water resources even more essential. Streams and wetlands provide many benefits to communities by trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, filtering pollution, and providing habitat for fish and wildlife. Impacts from climate change like drought, sea level rise, stronger storms, and warmer temperatures threaten the quantity and quality of America’s water. Protecting streams and wetlands will improve our nation’s resilience to climate change.

Specifically, the Clean Water Rule:

  • Clearly defines and protects tributaries that impact the health of downstream waters. The Clean Water Act protects navigable waterways and their tributaries. The rule says that a tributary must show physical features of flowing water – a bed, bank, and ordinary high water mark – to warrant protection. The rule provides protection for headwaters that have these features and science shows can have a significant connection to downstream waters.
  • Provides certainty in how far safeguards extend to nearby waters. The rule protects waters that are next to rivers and lakes and their tributaries because science shows that they impact downstream waters. The rule sets boundaries on covering nearby waters for the first time that are physical and measurable.
  • Protects the nation’s regional water treasures. Science shows that specific water features can function like a system and impact the health of downstream waters. The rule protects prairie potholes, Carolina and Delmarva bays, pocosins, western vernal pools in California, and Texas coastal prairie wetlands when they impact downstream waters.
  • Focuses on streams, not ditches. The rule limits protection to ditches that are constructed out of streams or function like streams and can carry pollution downstream. So ditches that are not constructed in streams and that flow only when it rains are not covered.
  • Maintains the status of waters within Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems. The rule does not change how those waters are treated and encourages the use of green infrastructure.
  • Reduces the use of case-specific analysis of waters. Previously, almost any water could be put through a lengthy case-specific analysis, even if it would not be subject to the Clean Water Act. The rule significantly limits the use of case-specific analysis by creating clarity and certainty on protected waters and limiting the number of similarly situated water features.

A Clean Water Act permit is only needed if a water is going to be polluted or destroyed. The Clean Water Rule only protects the types of waters that have historically been covered under the Clean Water Act. It does not regulate most ditches and does not regulate groundwater, shallow subsurface flows, or tile drains. It does not make changes to current policies on irrigation or water transfers or apply to erosion in a field. The Clean Water Rule addresses the pollution and destruction of waterways – not land use or private property rights.

The rule protects clean water necessary for farming, ranching, and forestry and provides greater clarity and certainty to farmers about coverage of the Clean Water Act. Farms across America depend on clean and reliable water for livestock, crops, and irrigation. The final rule specifically recognizes the vital role that U.S. agriculture serves in providing food, fuel, and fiber at home and around the world. The rule does not create any new permitting requirements for America’s farmers. Activities like planting, harvesting, and moving livestock have long been exempt from Clean Water Act regulation, and the Clean Water Rule preserves those exemptions.

The Clean Water Rule will be effective 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

More information: www.epa.gov/cleanwaterrule and army.mil/asacw

May 20, 2015, Blacksburg, VA — Growing evidence suggests that agricultural practices, especially widespread antibiotic use, could be contributing to the increasing antibiotic resistance problem in humans. In order to learn how to effectively control this spread of antibiotic resistance from livestock manure, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded a $2.25 million grant to a Virginia Tech team of engineers and scientists to examine the food chain from farm to fork.

One of the team’s immediate concerns is to determine if the proposed Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) Food Safety Modernization Act rules for composting manure, intended for the control of pathogens, will effectively limit the spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria. The team’s plan includes tracking the fate of antibiotics, antibiotic resistant bacteria, and antibiotic resistance genes, as they are potentially carried over from manure to fresh produce.

Leading the interdisciplinary group is Amy Pruden, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech, a pioneer in examining environmental sources and pathways of antibiotic resistance genes as emerging contaminants. A 2007 Presidential Early Career Award in Science and Engineering and a 2006 National Science Foundation CAREER Award recipient, Pruden was most recently honored with the 2014 Paul L. Busch Award from the Water Environment Research Foundation for innovation in applied water quality research.

Last September President Barack Obama signed an executive order establishing a task force for combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The task force creation came on the heels of a President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report on ways to fight antibiotic resistance in the U.S. Part of this report spoke of the “very serious concern” of antibiotic use in animal agriculture.

“Antibiotic resistance is a serious human health threat,” Pruden said. “Our goal is to identify all possible means by which we can control the spread of antibiotic resistance so that these drugs continue to work when we need them. In this case, we hope to work with existing practices intended to control the spread of pathogens from livestock manure and to determine how we can ensure that antibiotic resistance also is not spread.”

Evidence is showing that antibiotic resistance rates of human pathogens is rising in both hospital acquired and community acquired infections. While looking at ways to minimize the spread of resistance, “the fact that the majority of antibiotic use in the U.S. is for livestock cannot be ignored,” Pruden added.

The Food and Drug Administration recently estimated that 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. are administered to livestock. Combine this fact with the knowledge that between “40 and 90 percent of the antibiotic is excreted in the feces and urine where they can remain active and potentially stimulate antibiotic resistance,” cautioned Kang Xia, http://www.cses.vt.edu/people/tenure/xia.html associate professor of crop and soil environmental sciences at Virginia Tech and a co-principal investigator. And it reinforces “our call for new strategies.”

In the U.S., antimicrobials are widely used for therapy, disease prevention, and growth promotion in animals raised as a source of food.

“They generally act by targeting specific aspects of the bacterial cells and inhibiting their growth,” Pruden explained. “However the bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics when they carry antibiotic resistance genes.”

So the Virginia Tech team is focusing on these genes “since they can be shared among bacteria, even dead to living bacteria, and could therefore persist during pre-harvest and post-harvest stages,” said Pruden. “Antibiotic resistance genes are arguably of greater concern than antibiotic resistant bacteria because they are typically associated with mobile genetic elements that enable them to be passed between microorganisms via horizontal gene transfer, a phenomenon possible even from dead to living cells.”

Pruden points out that “horizontal gene transfer is considered to be the most important mechanism driving the spread of antibiotic resistance”.

Monica Ponder, associate professor of food science and technology at Virginia Tech, also a member of the team, noted concerns about produce eaten raw, as vegetable surfaces are naturally colonized by a variety of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi. Most are harmless, but when they do occasionally carry pathogens, the results can be deadly, as was the case in the 2006 outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 linked to spinach.

This contamination can come from lapses in manure management, such as contamination of irrigation water, poor composting, or application too near the harvest time.

“In the U.S., it is not permissible to apply raw manure to fields intended for food production, but there may be simple ways we could improve the composting process, selection of soil type, crop type, or post-harvest washing practices to ensure that antibiotic resistance is not spread,” Ponder said.

The Food and Drug Administration has already launched an initiative to promote voluntary phase out of medically important antibiotics such as third generation cephalosporins in food producing animals.

“While limiting antibiotic use in livestock makes sense from a practical standpoint, the science of the effect of antibiotic withdrawal on antibiotic resistance is complex,” cautioned team member Katharine Knowlton, the Virginia Tech Colonel Horace E. Alphin Professor of Dairy Science.

The new USDA project will integrate research, education, and extension in order to train future leaders equipped to address complex problems like the spread of antibiotic resistance in the environment and to engage with farmers and livestock producers in translating the research to practice.

Virginia Tech is the ideal locale for this project given its land-grant mission and highly supportive atmosphere for agricultural extension, for which efforts in this project will be lead by Thomas Archibald and Amber Vallotton,” Pruden said.

Archibald is an assistant professor of agricultural leadership and community education and Vallotton is an assistant professor of horticulture, both at Virginia Tech.

The team attributes its success in attracting this competitive USDA grant to prior seed funding from the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science and a National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergraduates site, led by Leigh-Anne Krometis, assistant professor of biological systems engineering and W. Cully Hession, professor of biological systems engineering, who round out the team’s members. They developed the integrated undergraduate research and education training infrastructure at Virginia Tech.

They will also partner with the Interfaces of Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGC-IGEP)Global Change Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGC-IGEP) in expanding graduate education opportunities associated with this new project http://globalchangephd.com/.

May 13, 2015, Washington, DC — House Republicans recently voted to block government rules that would clarify which streams, tributaries and wetlands should be protected from pollution and development under the Clean Water Act.

The rules proposed last year by the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have fueled political anger in the country's heartland, becoming a top issue of concern for many farmers and landowners who say there are already too many government regulations affecting their businesses. READ MORE

May 5, 2015, Millbury, OH – Saying the Lake Erie water crisis last August is a wake-up call, a coalition of environmental, agricultural and other organizations in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan is asking the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to declare the lake’s western basin an impaired watershed.

Despite the passage last month of Ohio Senate Bill 1 – a bipartisan measure prohibiting the application of fertilizer and manure on frozen and saturated ground within the basin – the organizations contend in a letter to Gina McCarthy, EPA administrator, “no meaningful measures have yet been taken to reduce the levels of algae-feeding phosphorus” in Lake Erie. Consequently, there will “almost certainly” be another crisis this year. READ MORE

April 8, 2015, Indianapolis, IN — Deb Kristensen has seen firsthand the dairies affected by the U.S. District Court judge’s rule that dairy manure is a “solid waste” under the Environmental Protection Agency’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Kristensen, partner at Givens Parsley LLP, talked about the decision during the National Institute for Animal Agriculture’s annual conference in Indianapolis. The ruling is a burden facing producers as it allows the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to be used to regulate animal agriculture. READ MORE

 

Keeping abreast of the latest legal happenings involving manure application and nutrient management in the U.S. is enough to give a person a migraine.

In late December 2014, the Wisconsin Supreme Court released a decision that had many livestock farmers scrambling to review insurance policies. The court reversed a past decision in a case involving a dairy producer and an insurance company. In the court’s decision, manure that contaminates a well is a pollutant and not covered under a farm’s general liability insurance policy.

With this ”precedent setting” ruling, many livestock operations in Wisconsin who relied on a standard liability policy were suddenly left without coverage for claims involving well contamination from manure. And law firms across the state were quickly contacting their agricultural clients, urging them to review their insurance policies.

“It is critical that you evaluate how your policy defines a ‘pollutant,’ how policy exclusions would apply to your operation, and whether you have additional coverage (such as specialized pollution coverage) that may be able to provide insurance coverage for damage caused by manure,” stated law firm Michael Best & Friedrich in an alert to clients.

A few weeks later, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington ruled that manure from a Yakima Valley dairy should be treated as a solid waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. It was the first time the act had ever been applied to land applied manure.

According to Christopher Bryant, a lawyer with Bergeson & Campbell, P.C., a Washington, DC, law firm, the court found that manure can be considered a solid waste under the RCRA if it is applied to the land without regard for the nutritional needs of the crop or stored in such a way that results in release of the manure to the environment.

“The case could have major implications for concentrated animal feeding operations as it would subject certain manure applications to regulation as solid waste,” Bryant stated in an opinion piece on the ruling. “Given the resounding implications of this decision, it is almost a certainty that industry groups will appeal the decision and seek to have it reviewed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. If the Appeals Court upholds the ruling, it could force CAFO operators that do not have Clean Water Act permits to seek such permits or to ensure that their surface impoundments meet RCRA regulations.”

On top of this, state and local legislators in Iowa, Ohio, and Wisconsin are grappling to pass bills that would see a tightening of manure application laws while, in some cases, cutting budgets to programs that help farmers and the environment. While the iron fist brandishes its legislative stick, the carrot is being removed.

Farming has never been a career choice for those slow to adapt. But it would seem these recent legal decisions mean operators might have to add paralegal and state lobbyist to their already crammed skill sets.

NOTE: The January/February 2015 issue of Manure Manager featured a stunning photo supplied by Prestige Air Photo in the Western Feedlots feature on pages 6 to 10. I’d like to thank them for allowing us to use the image.

 

 

 

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