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Be proactive with manure regulations

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 30 June 2010
Manure spreader

Regulations are a commonplace way of managing manure. To keep them from piling up, Dr. Doug Beegle says it’s as simple as a little common sense.

A distinguished professor of agronomy at Penn State University, Beegle provides some things to think about when handling manure, as well as what to do if regulations are afoot in your area.

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1. Be open with your neighbors about what you’re doing.
It’s easy to have the wrong idea about something when you don’t understand it. Inform them of your manure-handling practices and why it is what you do.

2. Clean up your barnyards.
People driving by can see them. When they see manure piled high or effluent running to a waterway, they can identify it as an obvious pollution problem, and are more likely to take action to stop it.

3. Apply carefully in winter months.
It is still legal in Pennsylvania, and other states in the country, to spread manure on snow-covered ground. “If you want to keep that right, you really have to think about what you’re doing and where you’re doing it,” Beegle says. “Always spread on the best site you can.” That’s typically a flat field, far from water.

“Don’t advertise it either,” he adds, noting he’s seen farmers spreading manure right along the edge of the field, just off the road, because the snow is so deep they don’t want to chance going in any further. Although people in agriculture can sympathize, someone else driving by may not.

4. Keep good records.
Even if you are not yet required to do so, Beegle recommends keeping records of manure applications. If your practices would come into question, you can easily explain the location, time and rate of application. Also, note any pre- or post-application weather occurrences.

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5. Appearances are everything
Think about what your neighbors can see and how they would view what you are doing. Try to impress them; if you don’t, they may ask someone else to start watching you too.

6. Think big
Sometimes the problem stretches beyond what individuals can do. “There are simply too many nutrients in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Beegle says. “It’s not just dairy farmers that are over the limit, it’s all of agriculture.” The economy has driven us to a system where nutrients are grown, used and deposited in different places.

“I’m trying to get people involved in policy to shift the system to change that. However, policymakers say it goes back to farmer management,” he says.

Farmers in Pennsylvania have been using the phosphorus index to help decide where to deposit nutrients, making sure it’s in the right place, at the right time and at the right rate. “That only buys us time to get the entire system in the right balance,” says Beegle.

To clean up the problem, it’s going to cost everyone something, either in taxes or at the grocery store.

“The easy stuff has already been done,” Beegle says. “Now it’s more difficult and more costly, and we need to find a way to make it more profitable for the farmers to initiate.”

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7. Get informed
Producers need to realize what’s being proposed. For instance, the EPA is talking about making all farms CAFOs and requiring them to abide by any related regulations.

You can pay attention on your own or through industry organizations that will send you regular updates. Penn State Extension tries to educate what is happening through newsletters and meetings and other groups do the same.

8. Speak up
Make your voice heard. If you are in support of a proposed regulation, say so; and if not, speak up.

Most regulatory bodies take comments via e-mail, through the web, by mail or by calling in. Typically it’s during a time-limited comment period.

If you don’t know what to say, some ag organizations will prepare form letters for you to send in.

However, it’s typically a personal touch that makes the greatest impact. When policymakers hear from farmers versus industry lobbyists or educators or others, it means so much more, Beegle says.

Tell a personal story on how the new rule will impact you or your immediate industry. Be specific and avoid coming across as whining. State the cost to you, the impact and the change it will make for good or bad.

Best yet, add an alternative if you disagree with the proposal. The topic of spending government dollars more effectively is usually well received.

Using a little common sense, sharing your story and being proactive may result in one less regulation to have to follow. PD

Karen Lee
  • Karen Lee

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