Feedlot environmental management

By: Lauren Caggiano

More stringent and enforced government regulations call for keen oversight in following best practices for environment management, especially in the case of open feedlots. Open feedlots have the potential to degrade nearby water resources if not managed properly. Consequently, operators should follow guidelines used to minimize the feedlot impacts on soil, water, and air of the surrounding areas.

Shawn Shouse, a field specialist at the Iowa State Extension Office, co-authored a report “Best Environmental Management Practices for Open Feedlots.” Shouse and his colleagues created the document “so producers could have advice in their hands,” he says. Operators need to have access to tested tactics that have positive impact on the environment.

Shouse offers some basic tips for successful environmental management:

• First, he calls to mind federal environmental acts that laid the groundwork for modern policies. The Federal Clean Water Act (1972) requires that pollutants (including animal waste) be kept out of our waters.  Any animal feeding operations over a certain size that discharge pollutants must be permitted to do so, and then only under specified extreme conditions. He advises operators research additional state rules governing water quality and the respective government agency.

• Open feedlot operators can start by keeping as much clean water as possible out of their pens.  “We call this clean water diversion. Regular pen maintenance reduces the amount of manure that can potentially wash out of the pens,” he says.

• Stockpile stored dry manure in safe locations while waiting for land application.

• Shouse acknowledges the value of manure in agriculture, as it returns vital nutrients to the ground. Yet there comes a point when the manure does more harm than good−when it enters our drinking water. Slow down water running out of pens to allow solids to drop out, he says. This is a measure to prevent run-off from adversely affecting streams and lakes. Shouse says this is a hot-button issue in the feedlot world: “Society is becoming more observant of how we handle manure. Everybody in livestock production is watching that closely. We need to put nutrients back in the ground in a manner that is acceptible to society.”

• Even if your feedlot is small, and rules do not require total containment or treatment, make sure your liquid does not adversely impact waters when it reaches them.

• For open feedlots, and even for confinement feeding where all the animals and manure are under one roof, use a nutrient management plan to get the most crop benefit out of the manure and to minimize the risk of negative environmental impacts.  These nutrient plans are required for large operations, and may be required even for smaller operations.

• Many states require manure applicators to be trained and certified. Even if it isn’t required, learn about good manure nutrient management and manure handling safety to protect yourself and the environment, Shouse advises.

These are just a few guidelines for solid environmental practices and is not intended to be a comprehensive list. Shouse reminds operators of the consequences of negligence or oversight. In addition to the environmental cost to the land, operators can face hefty fees for lack of compliance. Penalties can range from $1,000 to as high as $20,000. In the worst-case scenario the operation could be shut down.   ©

Further resources are available for operators. Shouse suggests contacting the local extension office, state branch of the Cattle Ranch Association or local private organization dedicated to serving operators. To access the report, go to www.iowabeefcenter.org/Docs_environment/Environment-Practices_Open-Feedlots.pdf.

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