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Ranchers, farmers show support for updating manure regulations

PIERRE - For hundreds of South Dakota's largest livestock producers, their way of life stood on the line this past week. They faced scrutiny during a three-day hearing about their cattle, pork, dairy and poultry operations and protecting South Da...

PIERRE – For hundreds of South Dakota’s largest livestock producers, their way of life stood on the line this past week.

They faced scrutiny during a three-day hearing about their cattle, pork, dairy and poultry operations and protecting South Dakota’s water from the tons of manure produced.

If they have enough pigs or steers or cows or chickens or turkeys at a site, they need manure management systems that meet state government’s approval.

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On the other hand if they’re small enough the government will continue letting them alone.

For the first time in a decade, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources is updating its regulations regarding concentrated animal feeding operations.

One side featured lawyers and witnesses for the cattlemen, pork producers, dairy producers and poultry farms.

The other side seeking more regulation included some individual producers and Dakota Rural Action, a citizens group.

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In the middle sat the engineers who run the state’s feedlot permitting program.

Steve Pirner, the state secretary of environment and natural resources, adopted the revised permit at the end of the hearingThursday. The new version will take effect in about two months.

More than 400 producers operate under the current permit. They would need to apply again during the next one to four years.

The concentrated operations have to prepare and follow what’s called a nutrient management plan.

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They have to collect and store manure, then apply those tons to crop fields when the times are right.

Some of the producers said that even though their operations don't require it, they voluntarily follow the state’s rules because they make sense.

Several testified they wouldn’t apply manure on wet ground because they would tear up fields, pack the soil so it wouldn’t be as productive, get equipment stuck and track mud onto the local roads.

The manure helps save money because they don’t purchase commercial fertilizer or they buy less of it.

The management plans are intended to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus that wind up in streams and lakes and rivers and shallow aquifers.

Other producers who want more regulation told stories of manure washing from neighboring feedlots and turning brown the water in their creeks and ponds.

One story was about two brothers who disagree.

Rancher Glenn Mayer of Pukwana doesn’t like what’s happening on his land that is downhill from the feedlot next door operated by his brother Lynn.

Mayer said he’s disappointed in the responses from state, federal and tribal regulators about the complaints he’s filed.

Kennette Rogers of rural Ree Heights said water runs from a neighbor’s feedlot onto the property owned by her and her husband.

She said she didn’t know she could file a complaint with the state office. The neighbor doesn’t have a state permit but Rogers said thousands of cattle move through.

Todd Wilkinson, who is president for the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association and was one of the lawyers for the producer groups, told her DENR could have made the feedlot get a permit.

His cross-examination of her brought to light that Rogers became aware in 2015 she could have pursued a complaint.

“But you didn’t choose to go that route,” Wilkinson said.

“No,” Rogers replied.

South Dakota uses what’s known as a general permit for the concentrated animal feeding operations.

That means regulations are set in that permit and producers apply to operate under the conditions of the general permit.

The permit doesn’t regulate odor or dust.

Wilkinson asked Rogers how in her situation state regulators could respond to something they didn’t know about. She again said she didn’t know she could complain.

“So the general permit process is a good thing,” he said.

“If there is enough restrictions,” she replied.

John Lentz of Fulton is a resource conservationist for the federal Natural Resources and Conservation Service. “We feel very good this current permit is going to do what it’s supposed to do,” Lentz said.

A witness for the South Dakota Pork Producers was Dave Uttecht, a farmer from the Huron area. He said the permit requirements are beneficial.

“It’s not always easy to keep all the records, but it’s the right thing to do, so we don’t have bad actors in the state making a mess of things,” Uttecht said.

He agreed the general permit process is easier for operators and removes uncertainty and expense. “It’s hard to know what the rules are,” Uttecht said.

A witness for dairy producers was Lynn Boadwine, a managing partner of three different dairies in Minnehaha County and near Milbank.

He said field-tiling restrictions “would really make it difficult.” One of the suggestions from a consultant for Dakota Rural Action was to cap the drainage end of field tile when manure was recently applied and conditions turned wet.

Boadwine said many of the farmers he knows have installed tile in recent years.

Jason Feldhaus grows crops and runs a feedlot of more than 900 head of cattle near Howard. He is under the 1,000-head threshold for cattle that would require state approval but still uses a nutrient management plan that features a combination of manure and commercial fertilizer.

Feldhaus said he spreads manure over his tiled fields, where the tiles are four feet deep in the soil. “In my opinion, soil is one of the best filters there is, as it goes through the soil profile,” he said.

He described the cattle manure as “very valuable.” He doesn’t apply manure to wet fields and said he gets better crop yields using manure rather than commercial fertilizer.

“It’s not a waste product. It allows us to not have to spend a lot of money on commercial fertilizer,” Feldhaus said. He added, “It costs us money if it runs off.”

Brad Woerner of Yankton works for an engineering firm that has designed many manure facilities and helped write nutrient management plans for many livestock producers in South Dakota and neighboring states.

Woerner said the firm's engineers gather all the information available, from crop rotations to well and aquifer locations, and consider the lay of the land in recommending how manure facilities could fit into a producer’s operation.

He said he’s told producers at times they need to change their layout and he’s told contractors their work wasn’t up to expectations and needed to be corrected.

“I would say my job isn’t to be liked. It’s to be correct,” Woerner testified.

He added, “We can put the same barn up on 10 different sites but we’re going to have 10 sites. Everything is going to be unique for that site.”

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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