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CLEAN programs create nutrient management plans for dairies at no cost

Karen Lee Published on 28 December 2009

Creating and maintaining a nutrient management plan is becoming a cost of doing business for most livestock operations in today’s environment. But, for a limited time, it is available at no cost to the producer. That’s right – it’s free!

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Comprehensive Livestock Environmental Assessment and Nutrient (CLEAN) management plan programs were developed two years ago to provide confidential, no-cost technical support to owners and operators of livestock operations in the U.S. to help them identify and implement farm management practices that protect the environment.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded $7.6 million dollars in grant money to protect water quality. Two programs – CLEANmp WEST and CLEANEAST – equally share the money and use it to offer technical services in developing nutrient management plans, reviewing and updating nutrient management plans, and conducting environmental assessments.

The Environmental Resources Coalition (ERC), a non-profit group, administers CLEANmp WEST for all livestock farms located west of the Mississippi River, except Minnesota. CLEANEAST is available to Minnesota and all states east of the Mississippi and is administered jointly by RTI International and North Carolina State University.

“New animal agriculture is under fire and we wanted to lend a hand,” says Mark White, executive director of ERC.

Although some producers have found funding locally, the demand can sometimes outpace financial resources as well as manpower. Some producers rely on local NRCS offices, but depending on the state, there can be a backlog of producers waiting to be serviced.

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“This program fills that niche or certainly helps make a dent,” White says. He notes that larger operations probably have the resources to have their own plans done and this grant may be more welcomed by small to mid-sized farms; however it is not limited to size.

The program also services all species. “We’ve done quite a bit of dairy and swine and also some poultry and beef feedlots. There have been a few animal market locations that are large enough to be considered CAFOs,” White says.

The stated goal of the program is to help water quality and therefore, if needed, monies will be targeted to operations in watershed areas with runoff issues. However, until more watershed areas are identified, the programs are using a broad-brush approach and helping as many livestock operations as possible. At this point in time, all livestock operations in the country are encouraged to apply.

Once an application is approved, an environmental technician is assigned to that particular livestock operation to create or review a nutrient management plan or perform an environmental assessment. After the plan or assessment is complete, the technician is paid through the program and not by the owner of the farm.

“It’s not like a typical government program,” White explains. The animal feeding operation does not see the money from the grant, nor do they have to worry about paying anything out of pocket and getting reimbursed.

All plans done under this program are consistent with state and national CAFO rules. Depending on what the local provisions are, the most stringent regulations are always followed.

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Not only is this program free, but it’s also confidential. An owner or operator’s name or address is never shared with the EPA. It is all kept in a secured database for the program’s records only. Each program is required to provide certain data to the EPA to verify the funding is appropriately spent, but that information is shared in a generic format.

When applying, the producer must share the farm’s address, number of animals, type of manure storage, how many acres are available for land application and if manure is exported off the farm. This is to give the technician an idea of what it will take to develop a plan for this particular situation. If it’s a larger farm, permit information, engineer drawings and biosecurity information will also be required. Representative soil and manure-sampling data are also needed and must be provided by the producer, as they are not covered by the grant. Depending on the operation and specific state requirements, current soil samples must be less than four years old and representative manure data is one year or less old.

CLEANmp WEST
If you farm in the West, you can apply by filling out the application online at www.cleanmp-west.org or download an application and mail it in. You can also obtain an application by calling (800) 897-1163.

Once it’s determined the application meets the guidelines, CLEANmp WEST places it on a secured website where technical service providers (TSP) have the opportunity to bid on each individual project. This allows the program to obtain the lowest cost per project. They then enter an agreement with the TSP and producer. Upon completion, the TSP is paid through the grant.

It takes approximately two months from the time the application is complete to when a plan is in hand. The TSP has 30 days to visit the farm and another 30 days to draw up the plan. “A few have taken longer,” Patrick Splichal says, “but they didn’t have soil samples ready.” Splichal is the technical director for SES, Inc., the technical consulting firm for CLEANmp WEST.

Thus far, CLEANmp WEST has helped about 100 livestock operations from sign-up to completion. It has a goal of providing approximately 400 nutrient management plans and 400 environmental assessments by the end of the program.

CLEANEAST
Producers in the East can go to http://livestock.rti.org and download the application, or they can call (866) 881-1191 and to get a form.

CLEANEAST is averaging a six-week turnaround from the time the application is complete to when a plan is in a producer’s hand. That’s given soil and manure samples are ready at the time of application, says Mark Rice with North Carolina State University.

Different from the West, CLEANEAST arranged contracts with technical assistance professionals (TAP) at the onset of the program. Therefore, they skip the bidding process and directly assign a project to the TAP in the area of the livestock operation upon the acceptance of the application.

They have received 260 requests for plans or assessments to date.
“In the state of Pennsylvania there has been such a flood of applicants we’ve had to put some on the waiting list,” Rice explains. “We are trying to be equitable in distributing funds across all 27 states.” However, if a farm is located in a critically impaired watershed in Pennsylvania, it will be accepted in adherence of the goal to protect water quality.

Rice says Pennsylvania has really jumped on board with the program because the state agencies have bought into the program and helped to promote it. Other states already have programs in place where extension or state agencies can write a plan at no cost to producers and he predicts there will be little to no interest from those areas in this program.

Any producer who would like an independent environmental assessment and/or nutrient management plan is encouraged to apply to their respective program.

White encourages interested producers to sign-up as soon as possible. The grant is set up as a four-year program and 2011 is the last year to participate. However, there can be a lag time with applications, especially if there is additional information needed. Also, the program will only last as long as the funds are available. If that ends before the end of 2010, so will the program.

A free nutrient management plan, updated plan or environmental assessment can be a fairly valuable service, Splichal says. It generally costs between $5,000 and $10,000.

“It’s a good idea for your operation,” he adds. “It’s better for your bottom line to utilize manure nutrients more efficiently and it can offer protection in the event of an environmental mishap. You’ll have documentation that you are following an approved plan.” PD

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