Water quality critical in caring for livestock

Utah Land

Utah farmers and ranchers take seriously their responsibility for producing a reliable, safe and abundant supply of food. They also take pride in being good stewards of limited natural resources such as land, water and air. As many farms expand, animal feeding operations (AFOs) are becoming concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). CAFOs have added environmental requirements with regards to manure management, runoff from farm fields, and protection of surface and ground waters. AFOs and CAFOs are required to develop a comprehensive nutrient management plan.

In March 1999, the USDA and EPA released the Unified National Strategy for Animal Feeding Operations. The strategy represents the USDA and EPA plan for addressing water quality and public health concerns from AFOs and CAFOs.  Because Utah livestock and dairy producers were proactive and cooperative, federal agencies agreed to allow the Utah strategy to be somewhat unique from other states.

Certified specialists from Utah Farm Bureau, Utah Dairy Producers, Utah Association Conservation Districts, USU Extension and USDA-NRCS have worked cooperatively to help Utah livestock, dairy and poultry producers voluntarily address water quality problems. Their united efforts have helped most producers avoid the heavy hand of regulatory action, fines and mandatory permitting. Their purpose has been threefold: First is to meet the requirements of the federal Clean Water Act, next to maintain a viable agricultural industry, and finally to maintain the decision making at the local level. In most situations they have been successful in reaching those goals.

In preparation for the meeting, producers will want to honestly assess their own agricultural operations and current manure management practices.  Some practices may be obvious while others may not be.  Keep in mind that, according to federal law, no manure or contaminated wastewater can be discharged into any surface water sources, including ditches that leave an operators property. All manure and contaminated wastewater from livestock facilities, manure storage sites, and land application areas must be contained.  Even manure applied on fields can lead to a discharge if rainfall, snow melt, or irrigation tail water leaves the site and enters a surface water body.

It may be helpful to invite an outside, non-regulatory assessment of your operation. Someone unfamiliar with the day-to-day activities of a facility may be able to identify problems not apparent to the owner or manager. You may even consider having an assessment team made up of local producers with similar interests. The team may assess each member’s facilities and discuss recommendations for improvements. A proactive, voluntary assessment is much better than having a visit and potential fine from a regulatory agency.

For more information visit the Utah Farm Bureau’s website here.