State
April 27, 2017, Richmond, VA — Excessive livestock manure from millions of turkeys, chickens and cows in Virginia is making its way into the Shenandoah River, polluting the scenic waterway with unsafe levels of E. coli, according to a new report from an environmental advocacy group.

The Environmental Integrity Project analyzed hundreds of state records for the report released Wednesday. In addition to E. coli, which can sicken the swimmers, fishermen and tubers who flock to the river, the report also found elevated levels of phosphorous, which contributes to the growth of algae blooms and low-oxygen "dead zones." READ MORE
April 27, 2017, Wilkes-Barre, PA – A state court judge cited Pennsylvania’s Right To Farm Act (RTFA) in recently dismissing a case from neighbors who filed a lawsuit over the use of liquid swine manure as part of the defendants' farming operations.

Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Thomas F. Burke Jr. decided to grant motions for summary judgment for the defendants and against a long list of plaintiffs who are landowners and neighbors of the hog operation. READ MORE
April 24, 2017, Lafayette, NY – Here's a statistic to start your day. A dairy farm with 200 cows produces as much manure as the city of Albany and its 98,000 residents produces sewage, according to a leading environmental group.

Communities have experience with managing human waste, but as the state's dairy industry has grown in recent years to meet the needs of yogurt, cheese and milk lovers, so has the problem of manure that poses an environmental threat to waterways and residents.Manure management has become controversial, and farms in Central New York are at the center of the debate. READ MORE

April 13, 2017, Emerald, WI – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is investigating a large manure spill from a dairy in St. Croix County.

April 10, 2017, Owatonna, MN – Public perception can dictate and lead to public policy. It is important for agriculture professionals to step out of their own boots and look at how they do business from the perspective of the general public. Is it a positive image? If not, the public may seek regulations to change it.

Rick Martens, the executive director of the Minnesota Custom Applicators Association, spoke to a group of manure applicators that were continuing their Commercial Ag Waste Technician training. READ MORE

March 30, 2017, Jefferson City, MO — Bill Reiboldt believes some Missouri farmers don't want local authorities to have any control over them.

"We just want to be regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Missouri Department of Agriculture," said Reiboldt, a Republican state representative from Neosho. "We don't want cities and municipalities regulating the world of agriculture."

HB 175, sponsored by Reiboldt, would no longer allow local government to regulate or create any ordinances or rules regarding "seeds, fertilizers or soil conditioners." Soil conditioners are any substances, excluding fertilizers, which can be added to the soil or applied to plants. READ MORE

February 28, 2017, Indianapolis, IN – The Indiana House approved a more streamlined process for authorizing confined animal feeding operations under a bill passed Feb. 27.

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Warsaw, gave an extended explanation of the bill to his colleagues because of confusion about what it does. For example, he said, the bill eliminates use of the term “prior approval” in favor of a “permit.” That has created concern by opponents of the measure, but Wolkins said all CAFOs must still receive permission to be built and operate. READ MORE

December 6, 2016, Springfield, IL – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) recently released the results of the 2015 Producer Survey, which was designed to accurately reflect the nutrient management and conservation practices used for the state Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS).

The survey questions covered nutrient management strategies, cover crops, edge-of-field practices, use of soil tests, erosion management, and knowledge of certain NLRS components. Farmers were asked to respond based on crop years 2015 and 2011, which was selected as a base year.

“This is the first opportunity for farmers to really tell their collective story regarding the use of nutrient management conservation practices in Illinois,” said Warren Goetsch, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). “This survey is proof that our agricultural community has a good story to tell. Illinois farmers are taking ownership of these uses, specifically agricultural non-point nutrient loss, and they are willing and able to meet the challenge through voluntary involvement and best management practice adoption. They are truly doing a great job!”

Per the survey, the majority of Illinois corn acres follow the recommended MRTN (Maximum Return to Nitrogen) application guidelines, and this number is increasing. In 2011, 70 percent of the corn acres were using MRTN and by 2015 that number had increased to 81 percent. In addition, more than half of all surveyed farmers indicate that are either knowledgeable or very knowledgeable of the aspects of the 4R Strategy of Right Nutrient Source at the Right Rate, in the Right Place and Right timing. Between 2011 and 2015, farmers moved to a split application system of less than 50 percent fall/winter applied applications with the remaining Nitrogen applications split between pre-plant and side-dress on nearly half a million acres.

Farmers have also shown increased adoption of cover crops since 2011. With almost half a million acres of cover crops on tile-drained ground, farmers have more than doubled their use of cover crops in the five-year period of the survey.

Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. credits the collective work of farmer groups, agricultural retail organizations, university research, Illinois agency leadership and the farm community in general for the success being shown in the adoption of conservation practices.

“The NLRS set aggressive goals for the ag community to address nutrient efficiency and through various partnerships across the industry we have once again shown that farmers are stewards of natural resources and have taken seriously the challenges presented to us,” he said.

The survey was funded by a partnership between the Illinois Nutrient Research & Education Council (NREC) and the Illinois Farm Bureau.

“This survey is an important part of the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy and provides an analysis of the adoption and understanding of the practices outlined in the strategy,” said Mark Schleusener, Illinois State statistician with USDA/NASS. “The results establish a set of baseline statistics and also show the changes in cultural practices from 2011 to 2015. With support from NREC and the Illinois Farm Bureau, we will look to repeat this survey on a bi-annual basis to continue 1 to track these issues.”

The full summary of survey results is available at: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Illinois/Publications/Current_News_Release/2016/Nutrient_Loss_Survey_Results.pdf.

December 5, 2016, Hot Springs, VA – Over the past two years, hundreds of Virginia farmers have taken proactive steps to protect water quality on their land.

Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Dr. Basil Gooden applauded their efforts Nov. 29 at the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s 2016 Annual Convention in Hot Springs. READ MORE

December 1, 2016, Baltimore, MD – We all try to meet our obligations in life, whether personal or professional. Living up to our commitments builds trust and earns a worthy reputation.

That's why it's so disappointing that the Maryland Department of Agriculture is proposing to weaken the ban against spreading manure and sewage sludge during winter months by allowing for certain exemptions. READ MORE

December 1, 2016, Madison, WI – Following a yearlong effort to analyze staff resources and prioritize core work, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources recently announced implementation plans for a strategic effort to better align its functions and organizational structure with the changing needs of customers and stakeholders.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp said the strategic alignment effort will help the department carry out its mission to protect Wisconsin's natural resources more efficiently and consistently than ever before. The alignment plan reflects a variety of inputs, including recommendations by internal teams, feedback from stakeholders and recognition of changing public expectations and funding sources.

"Successful organizations must periodically evaluate their priorities and structure to ensure they are serving customers effectively," Stepp said. "In implementing this strategic alignment effort, we've devoted extensive effort to make sure we get it right. We also intend to continue seeking feedback so we can respond nimbly if changes are needed along the way."

DNR started the strategic alignment effort in July 2015 to prioritize core work and align the department's functions and organizational structure with available resources. The effort was launched against the backdrop of a growing workload and a constrained fiscal outlook. The implementation will be accomplished in phases with final changes anticipated by early 2018.

While the effort will result in improved service delivery and enhanced integration of department resources, it will require changes in job descriptions for some employees. The alignment will not result in an overall reduction in the number of jobs at DNR.

Following are a few key points regarding the overall agency and some specific program-level changes:

  • DNR's mission is not changing and the alignment effort will not weaken environmental or conservation standards. Instead, the effort is intended to maximize how we use the staff resources we have available, working with our partners to accomplish our mission.
  • The alignment effort will involve significant changes for approximately five percent of the department's 2,549 full-time employees. These changes may include changes to position descriptions, differences in reporting structure or changes in division assignments resulting from the transformation of seven operational units to five: Forestry; Fish, Wildlife and Parks; Environmental Management; Internal Services; and External Services.
  • Other employees may see lesser changes to their position descriptions or program structures. A majority of employees will see no change.
  • Responsibility for staff with law enforcement authority will be shifted to the Bureau of Law Enforcement. Law enforcement specialization will improve consistency in delivery of services and administrative efficiencies with hiring, training and policy development.
  • The Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division will manage all property management staff and functions. As a result of the changes, Fish, Wildlife and Parks will provide better customer experiences at state properties and more effectively deploy staff and equipment to perform needed habitat work.
  • Also, the department's 19 researchers now located in the Bureau of Science Services will join other scientists within programs as well as a new Office of Applied Science within the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Division to ensure management decisions are informed by the best available science.
  • Within the Internal Services Division, a new bureau will focus on facility and property services including real estate operations and property planning.
  • Within the Environmental Management Division, staff working on water-related sediment cleanups will be combined with staff working on soil cleanups in the Remediation & Redevelopment Program to provide a more consistent approach to on-shore and in-water cleanups.
  • The External Services Division will use the department's assured wetland delineator program as a model to develop and staff assurance programs for items such as nutrient management plan review and lake shoreline stabilization projects. This model will free staff to provide greater oversight in the field.

"The alignment process has been guided by our values of integrity, professionalism, collaboration, respect, and customer service," Stepp said. "We remain committed to fielding a quality workforce and we are fortunate to have staff with the skills, flexibility and desire to take advantage of new opportunities created through the alignment process."

October 5, 2016, Madison, WI – Miles of phosphorus-laden muck must be removed from stream beds that lead to Madison’s lakes.

It’s the most promising and dramatic way to improve the health of Mendota, Monona and the other lakes in the Yahara chain, which has been fouled by heavy weeds and algae most summers. READ MORE

 

August 12, 2016, Celina, OH – It wasn’t long ago that Grand Lake St. Marys was the center of controversy due to Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs).

A lot has happened since that time and phosphorus reduction was one of several important topics at the Ohio Dairy Producers Association (ODPA) Summer Meeting held recently on the banks of the lake in Celina. READ MORE

July 18, 2016, Montpelier, VT – New state water quality rules could soon apply to all of Vermont's farms. The rules will cover not just dairy farms, but also other livestock operations, as well as vegetable and crop farms.

If the draft rules are approved, Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture will now certify and inspect an additional 1,500 small farms, a big increase from the 170 in the current permitting program. READ MORE

May 11, 2016, Harrisburg, PA – In a recent briefing to the State Conservation Commission (SCC), Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) officials discussed details of the collaboration between DEP and county conservation districts to conduct farm inspections in the Chesapeake Bay watershed as part of the recently announced "Bay Reboot" strategy.

DEP announced the strategy in January. It was developed in conjunction with the Pennsylvania departments of Agriculture, and Conservation and Natural Resources, and the State Conservation Commission. The strategy relies on a mix of technical and financial assistance for farmers, improved technology, expanded data gathering, improved program coordination and capacity and – when necessary – stronger enforcement and compliance measures.

The Tom Wolf administration sought additional resources from the federal government, and has been working with farm organizations to assist in capturing on-the-farm data of best management practices throughout the bay watershed. Capturing this data is essential to Pennsylvania receiving full credit in the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) model, which is used to measure progress toward pollution reduction goals.

DEP Secretary John Quigley and Veronica Kasi, program manager of DEP's newly formed Chesapeake Bay Program Office, delivered the update to SCC members at their statewide meeting in Harrisburg and provided a timeline for implementation.

"With valuable feedback from our partners, DEP has developed a draft Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and inspection report form for conservation district and agency staff to follow when completing field inspections as called for as part of the reboot strategy," Quigley said. "DEP will send pre-inspection letters to farmers to make them aware of the inspection program and afford them an opportunity to demonstrate compliance prior to a field inspection."

The Bay Reboot strategy is a recognition by the Wolf administration that a "mid-course change in direction," or refocus of work, is necessary because Pennsylvania will not reach the goals as described in the current Watershed Implementation Plan (WIP).

Quigley said DEP also just finished pilot testing the draft SOP this month in a few counties. The results of this pilot testing, along with other comments received from conservation district and agency staff, will be used to finalize this draft SOP, which can be found on DEP's website here. Once finalized, DEP and conservation district staff will be provided with formal training before full implementation of the program in July.

As part of the Bay Reboot strategy, conservation district staff will shift their focus from conducting 100 educational farm visits to conducting 50 farm inspections each year. The inspections will initially focus on ensuring farmers have implemented manure management and erosion and sedimentation plans as well as identifying any significant water quality problems.

"We want to make sure conservation district staff have all the tools and training they need to properly conduct these inspections while continuing their invaluable work of providing our farm community with compliance assistance," Quigley said. "This collaborative approach with input from all of our partners will be key to our success in improving our water quality."

The strategy centers around six elements:

  • Put high-impact, low-cost best management practices (BMPs) on the ground, and quantify undocumented BMPs in watersheds impaired by agriculture or storm water.
  • Improve reporting, record keeping and data systems to provide better and more accessible documentation.
  • Address nutrient reduction by meeting EPA's goal of inspecting 10 percent of farms in the watershed, ensuring development and use of manure management and agricultural erosion and sediment control plans, and enforcement for non-compliance.
  • Identify legislative, programmatic or regulatory changes to provide the additional tools and resources necessary to meet federal pollution reduction goals by 2025.
  • Obtain additional resources for water quality improvement.
  • Establish a Chesapeake Bay Office to coordinate the development, implementation and funding of the commonwealth's Chesapeake Bay efforts.

The draft Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) and related materials on Pennsylvania's Chesapeake Bay Program can be found here.

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