HURON -- In a world and an industry that is always changing, the same can be said for commercial animal feeding operations.

The South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources, the Natural Resources Conservation Service and South Dakota State University Extension led an environmental training session for CAFO operators on June 26 in Huron. About 25 individuals were in attendance at the event at the Crossroads Event Center.

While various training courses have always been required for commercial animal feeding operations in the state, the state DENR reissued its General Water Pollution Control Permit in April 2017, requiring operations to obtain coverage under the new rules between one and four years later, or by April 2021. The course in Huron required that an on-site representative attends an environmental training program within the last three years prior to obtaining a new permit.

The general permit contains the standards regulated by state or federal law, and provides DENR with a mechanism to efficiently permit a large number of operations, explained Jason Roggow, who has worked for the South Dakota Department of Environmental and Natural Resources for about 20 years.

“For the majority of the individuals, it’s a requirement for maintaining coverage under their permits, so hopefully they’re gaining the information to stay in compliance under the permit,” Roggow said of the event. “But beyond just the regulatory scope of this, there’s a whole bunch of other options and practices that producers can implement, so that they can apply that knowledge and information for their operations."

Roggow urged attendees to keep an open mind and to use the information that was given about manure management, nutrient management, air quality and odor, soil erosion and water quality. He asked those in attendance to think about what environmental risks exist at their facilities and consider what can be done to manage those.

“It’s about taking action and being proactive, as much as possible,” he said.

A number of SDSU experts spoke about their areas of expertise, as well.

David Kringen, a water resources field specialist for SDSU Extension based in Mitchell, said that once phosphorous gets in a particular water system, it’s hard to get it out.

“It doesn’t like to leave,” he said.

Kringen noted Lake Mitchell, for example, is a 700-acre lake but has a 350,000-acre watershed. He said focusing efforts on prevention as much as possible will take water quality a long way.

“It’s like that old saying: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” he said. “Make a good plan, follow it, and you’ll be good to go.”

Todd Trooien, who is a professor in the department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at SDSU, said the definition of water quality depends on what one is using it for.

“For some of us on a hot day, the best water quality is what comes out of the end of a garden hose,” he joked. “It all depends on what the water is going to be used for. Livestock will appreciate water differently than from irrigation, or from human consumption.”

Trooien said there’s no question South Dakota has had issues with water quality. He said a low percentage of the state’s rivers and lakes have been assessed for water impairment, but of those that have been assessed, 78 percent have been deemed impaired.

Jason Roggow, a natural resources engineer with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, speaks to a group of producers at a commercial animal feeding operation training event on June 26 in Huron. (Marcus Traxler / South Dakota Farm and Ranch)
Jason Roggow, a natural resources engineer with the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources, speaks to a group of producers at a commercial animal feeding operation training event on June 26 in Huron. (Marcus Traxler / South Dakota Farm and Ranch)

Trooien said striking a balance between new science and traditional farming practices is not always easy, but he said it’s about looking for opportunities.

“We really want to make it advantageous to farmers to make changes, if changes are needed, or if they’re beneficial," he said. "We want it to be an incentive, where it’s not the stick, but it’s the carrot."

Ryan Samuel, an assistant professor and SDSU Extension Swine Specialist, spoke about the importance of manure for cash flow.

“Cash flow is part of manure,” he said. “Value and cash flow, you can base on manure.”

Samuel, who grew up in Alberta, Canada, and raised swine, spoke in highly technical terms about diet and nutrient management and explained the effect of particle size on costs. Diet and nutritional decisions, he said, have a major impact on the nutrient and economic value of manure.

“The science, we spend a lot of time there and the decimal points of the diet,” Samuel said. "I can tell to the decimal point of how we’ve tested the diet, but what does it actually look like when it gets to the farm, or when it gets to the pig. That’s something we spend a lot of time on.”

A history of commercial animal operations

Commercial animal feeding operations are defined as animals that are stabled or confined for 45 days or more in any 12-month period, and also have no vegetation present during the normal growing season.

As of June, South Dakota had 448 permitted CAFOs through the DENR. That included 166 beef cattle operations with 563,565 head, 46 dairy cattle operations with 134,737 head, and 139 swine operations with 735,038 head of cattle. The state’s 17 livestock auction locations are also permitted under the CAFO process.

South Dakota has had authority to implement CAFO regulations since 1993, but the Environmental Protection Agency retains oversight. In 2003, the EPA required all CAFOs to be permitted, and South Dakota issued new general permit rules that year, while in 2007, South Dakota passed a law requiring CAFOs to operate under a general or individual water pollution control permit.

Roggow explained that changes in EPA standards in 2012 were significant, and was one of the major reasons producers were at the meeting in Huron. But the most recent permit change is an effort to streamline regulations, he said.

“We can write as many permits and programs as we want, but it comes down to producers following their own permits and those rules,” he said.