April 28, 2008 by Robynne Anderson
Recent discussions on regulations
have again demonstrated the gap between policymakers and the reality of
livestock operations. Large operations always attract attention, but
studies have shown that compliance with manure management rules is
often a matter of size, and it is not the big guys that create the risk.
Recent discussions on regulations have again demonstrated the gap between policymakers and the reality of livestock operations. Large operations always attract attention, but studies have shown that compliance with manure management rules is often a matter of size, and it is not the big guys that create the risk.
Obviously large-scale operators must maintain excellent standards to contain manure, handle it, and use it. Generally, these facilities are well-resourced in terms of capital and staff so they have the means to do the right thing, with the added incentive of the scrutiny they receive.
Small to medium-sized farms are less likely to have the resources to tackle environmental issues. Studies of adoption of manure management in Wisconsin demonstrate that there are some particular challenges for small to medium-sized farms to take up desirable practices, something policymakers must acknowledge.
As we explore adoption challenges, let me say first that I don’t believe farmers—big or small—have a desire to harm the environment. They are just as inclined to be good citizens as anyone else.
So what do smaller enterprises face in making changes to their manure practices? For a start, R&D done on manure management systems often tends to be designed for large volume operations and ignores the reality of how much manure is produced. Biogas gets lots of attention but is not a solution for a small enterprise unless a group of them band together to provide the volume needed to run such an endeavor. On the other hand, solutions like nipple drinkers are a simple way to reduce manure volume in big and small operations alike.
Related to the question of volume is infrastructure and capital. Exploration of manure solutions often lacks practicality for small operations. I recall one discussion of paving an area virtually equivalent to a football field to protect the ground while composting. At a cost of over a million dollars for concrete alone, how is that a solution for a small farm?
Money is an obvious issue; changing practices runs deeper. In many small and medium-sized enterprises, there is limited labor available. Additionally, some have mixed operations and juggle multiple aspects of farming demands. Practices like composting, treating, or even seasonal application may become time issues for this group.
The Wisconsin study looked at recommendations to avoid manure applications in the winter. It found small to medium-sized farms faced constraints to follow this and other practices because:
- there was inadequate storage to hold manure over the winter season;
- farmers lacked equipment to incorporate manure when applying;
- farmers could not get on the fields on a timely basis to keep up rotations in distant fields and sustain key schedules.
Certainly cultural issues and education affect the adoption of new practices. However, even if these are overcome, the stark realities of practicality, cost, and time are hurdles.
The adoption of new practices is critical to effecting change in manure practices. In my opinion, the following needs to happen:
- more work on adoption practices is important;
- research into environmental solutions has to consider adoption challenges;
- policymakers need to provide adequate resources to small to mid-sized farms to effect change. Many government programs have allowed producers only a few thousand dollars. Better to target a waterway or risk area and target enough dollars to overcome the resource hurdles to adopting new practices.
Risk is not limited to large operations. Big or small, practices must be developed so that operations manage their manure effectively.