By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- A farmer testified in Ohio during a recent state legislative field hearing that he applies manure to his fields every day, although state rules prohibit applications on frozen ground.
It was a telling moment during ongoing debate on a proposed bill to further restrict manure in the western basin of Lake Erie, where just last summer the city of Toledo forced residents to boil water because of toxic algae.
It is unclear how much, where or when manure is applied in the basin.
Two weeks ago, Ohio environmental officials announced they were investigating more than a dozen complaints about manure applied to frozen fields in the same basin.
"In Ohio we don't have manure police, it's all based on citizen complaints," said Adam Rissien, director of agricultural and water policy at the Ohio Environmental Council. "Northwest Ohio used to be a swamp. Everybody tile drains ... We've always relied on a complaint-driven system and people are now aware of the problem of applying on frozen ground."
Though the state regulates manure through permitting large and "major" confined animal feeding operations, Rissien said the state does not keep count of how many permits are issued, how much manure is produced or where it goes.
Fertilizer use has fallen among farmers who operate 3.8 million crop acres in the western basin, Rissien said, "but that doesn't take into account how much manure is used."
RESTRICTIONS DON'T STOP IMPROPER APPLICATIONS
Most states have restrictions on when manure can be applied, but that doesn't always prevent improper applications. In most states, manure application on frozen ground is either forbidden or strictly prohibited.
Regulations vary depending on where farmers operate. Typically, states regulate manure through the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System, or NPDES. It requires animal feeding operations of certain sizes to keep records on manure, create nutrient management programs and to dispose of manure under strict regulation.
Generally, farmers who purchase manure from animal feeding operations are required to follow the same rules the facilities face when it comes to application.
Farmers who apply manure as a fertilizer should check with Natural Resources Conservation Service field offices, state environmental departments and extension offices to better understand application rules. This is especially true for producers who apply manure outside of NPDES permits.
In Illinois, for example, animal feeding operations and farmers fall under an NPDES general permit. Manure applications are not permitted on land saturated by rainfall within 24 hours before application; not on land with ponded water; and not on saturated land during precipitation.
Jamin Ringger operates a farrow-to-finish hog farm and also raises crops on his farm near Gridley, Illinois. Ringger has 500 sows and grows corn and soybeans.
He keeps detailed records where and how much manure is applied, avoids applying manure to fields that are near water sources, knifes in the manure and his liquid manure spreader has a flow meter to make sure the correct amount of manure is applied.
"We try to be neighborly and not spill on the road or anything like that," he said. "We make sure we are doing a good job applying manure."
HIGHEST MANURE CONCENTRATION
More than 22 million acres of crop and pasture land in the United States were treated with manure, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The highest concentration of manure applications were in northern Iowa, southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. In a 2009 report to Congress, USDA said about 15.8 ma of cropland used manure as a fertilizer, or about 5% of all cropland in the United States.
In Iowa, nutrient runoff and concerns about the environmental footprint of one of the nation's largest livestock industries continue to be at the political forefront. The state's Senate recently started debate on a bill to change when, where and how manure is applied.
The bill would not allow liquid manure to be applied on soil if it originates from a manure storage structure that is part of a confinement feeding operation; on frozen ground, saturated ground, or snow-covered ground; if located in a five-digit zip code area subject to a rainfall event; and immediately prior to the beginning of a rainfall event predicted to have a 50% or higher probability that an area will receive more than one-quarter inch of rain in the first 24 hours.
The bill says liquid manure could not be applied for 24 hours from the beginning of a rainfall event. The prohibitions do not apply if the manure originates from a small animal feeding operation or the manure is injected or incorporated.
Current state law allows manure application from an animal feeding operation except during a period beginning in winter and ending in early spring. An exception allows such application if there is an emergency.
The rules for Minnesota farmers are some of the most detailed and restrictive on where and when manure can be applied.
Wanda and Chuck Patsche consider tracking, storing and applying manure an important part of their business. The Patsches operate a wean-to-finish hog business near Welcome, Minnesota. They feed 2,200 hogs and are part-owners of a local sow farm that supplies their feeder pigs.
The state requires them to test manure as well as the soil to make sure they are not over-applying manure. This is part of their state-required manure-management plan.
"We can't spread manure on top of the soil, it has to be injected or disked in the soil soon after being applied," Wanda Patsche told DTN.
Two weeks ago, Ohio's House of Representatives began debate on a bill already passed by the state's Senate.
Proposed restrictions include not allowing manure applications when it is raining, on frozen ground, or when the soil is saturated. Environmental groups such as the Ohio Environmental Council support the legislation, while some agriculture groups and legislators are concerned the bill would come down tougher on smaller farm operations.
Current Ohio law requires manure managers to consider a number of factors, including the characteristics of animal manure, available land, topography, cropping system, method of application, weather, time of the year, soil condition, other nutrients applied and soil nutrient levels.
Concentrated animal feeding facilities that sell manure to Ohio farmers for application on another farm are required to provide current manure tests and the Ohio Department's application requirements. Farmers are then required to certify when and how much manure they received from such facilities.
However, Rissien said the CAFFs are not required to track what happens to manure that leaves their operations.
Rissien said the state could begin to get a handle on nutrient runoff if the state would audit best-management practices. "We have a huge problem with transparency of where manure goes."
DTN Staff Reporter Russ Quinn contributed to this story.
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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