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Published in Food/Agribusiness

State issues new environmental regulations for Michigan’s largest livestock farms

BY Friday, April 03, 2020 04:36am

The state has tightened environmental restrictions on Michigan’s largest livestock farms. 

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has issued a revised general permit for facilities known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that raise large numbers of farm animals such as pigs, chickens or cows. 

The new permits are intended to enhance protection of the environment and public waters from excessive nutrient pollution and aim to reduce the effect animal waste has on the health of the Great Lakes, inland lakes and rivers. To protect the public and waters, the state is required to update the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit covering CAFOs every five years.

The regulations apply to about 260 of Michigan’s largest livestock operations.

The permit process is a tricky balance between environmental protection and “maintaining flexibility allowing large farms to cost-effectively manage animal wastes,” according to EGLE. Excessive runoff to waterways from CAFO waste — applied to farm fields as fertilizer —  can contribute to public and environmental health concerns such as algal blooms and bacteria contamination.

Although some environmental groups say the regulations do not go far enough to protect the state’s waterways, the revised general permit was developed with extensive input from the public, according to EGLE. The organization held stakeholder meetings, public information sessions, individual meetings with current CAFO permit holders and received more than 2,400 comments during a seven-week comment period. The process also included input and guidance from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and the Michigan Farm Bureau

Many changes were made to a version of the permit drafted late last year as a result of feedback from interested parties and the public.

“It appears that the final NPDES permit addresses several significant concerns our farmer members had expressed with the proposed changes contained in the draft permit,” Carl Bednarski, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau, said in a statement to MiBiz. “Even so, Michigan Farm Bureau continues to review the final NPDES permit details to ensure that it does not jeopardize farmers’ ability to stay in business while continuing to practice good environmental stewardship that protects water quality.”

The permit is important to many members of the Michigan Farm Bureau and “will have broad-reaching impacts across the food and agriculture sector,” Bednarski added.  

The permit includes significant new requirements that will be a challenge for farmers to implement, according to Laura Campbell, director of the agricultural ecology department at Michigan Farm Bureau. 

“We’re going to continue to work with them and EGLE to find ways to make sure farmers can meet all their goals of water quality protection, permit compliance and being able to continue to run their family farms,” Campbell told MiBiz. 

Among the NPDES permit changes:

  • Waste cannot be applied to farm fields in January, February or March when ground is typically frozen and runoff to waterways is more likely.
  • The transportation of waste for composting, treatment, or to out-of-state recipients is allowed during January, February and March as long as the waste is not applied to land during those months.
  • Electronic quarterly reporting of land application of wastes is required, whether the waste is applied to fields, sold, given away or transferred.
  • Waste generators must obtain soil tests from waste recipients before applying it to land to ensure that waste applications to fields are necessary. Allowable levels of phosphorus have been reduced to protect waterways.
  • A permit holder can use either the numerical Bray P1 phosphorous limits, with additional permit requirements that protect water quality, or the Michigan Phosphorous Risk Assessment (MPRA) tool to evaluate fields for manure application.
  • The level of residual solids in storage structures was changed from 12 inches to six inches. The change is consistent with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service standards for waste storage structures.
  • The permit allows for evaporation in the calculation of waste storage capacity as authorized in federal regulations.
  • CAFOs, where hundreds or thousands of animals are raised in a concentrated area, need an NPDES permit to operate.

EGLE will delay issuance of Certificates of Coverage for the revised general permit for at least 60 days from its effective issuance date of April 1 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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