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Helping smaller feedlots, dairies adhere to rules

In 2001, a partnership between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa State University initiated the Iowa Plan for Open Feedlots.

Helping smaller feedlots, dairies adhere to rules

In 2001, a partnership between the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, and Iowa State University initiated the Iowa Plan for Open Feedlots.

The goal of this plan was to help large, open feedlot operators (greater than 1,000 head) come into compliance with state and federal regulations for manure management and water quality. This program was quite successful at bringing large feedlots into regulatory compliance.

Now, nearly 11 years later, the same agencies and the Iowa State Dairy Association, in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are initiating the Small Open Lot Plan. The goal of this effort is to assist open feedlots and small dairies in assessing feedlot and outdoor pen areas for potential runoff of manure and nutrients, and to implement practices and strategies to mitigate potential impacts on water quality.

Key Points

It’s not just big livestock operations that are being watched by the EPA.

Small, open feedlots and small dairies have come under closer scrutiny.

Iowa now has an outreach plan to help small farms on environmental issues.

As most other sectors of the livestock industry have come into compliance, smaller operators have historically been left out of those efforts because regulators have addressed large operations with the goal that these compliance efforts would address the majority of the concern.

However, in the past two years Iowa livestock operations, in particular, small open feedlots and small dairies have come under closer scrutiny by EPA. This is often done with “flyovers” and ensuing on-site inspections. The days of smaller producers thinking they are not on the regulatory radar screen are long gone.

Size of operation defined

In response to this scrutiny, the organizations have designed the Small Open Lot Plan to raise awareness about environmental issues on these small farms. For the purpose of this program, the term “small feedlots and dairy operations” is defined as beef or dairy livestock operations that house less than 1,000 animal units (less than 1,000 head beef or immature dairy or 700 head mature dairy) in a feedlot-type situation. Other sizes include:

Medium CAFO. Once you’ve determined the size of your operation, you must determine your regulatory status. If your outdoor open lot or cow yard has between 300 and 999 cattle or dairy heifers, or 200 to 699 mature dairy cows, and manure or process wastewater (including milkhouse washwater) are discharging to a water of the U.S., you are classified as a medium-size concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, and your operation needs the required manure controls, a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, a nutrient management plan and certain records kept.

If you are a medium CAFO, you are required to follow certain design criteria for containment of manure on your farm. Because smaller farms may have limited access to technical or financial resources, the design criteria are typically less stringent than requirements for large CAFOs.

Small animal feeding operation. If your operation is smaller than a medium CAFO, you are not required to have a NPDES permit or a nutrient management plan unless designated to do so by DNR. However, you still can’t allow manure to discharge to water sources, and you are required to follow certain separation distances for manure application.

Educational outreach will help

Because the Small Open Lot Plan is educational in nature, one of the first goals is to raise awareness about potential impacts of manure runoff. DNR has partnered with ISU Extension to place water quality testing kits in 20 counties. These kits are available for livestock producers to use to check water quality in streams below their feedlots and cow yards.

The kits will come with an instructional video and a fact sheet on water quality impacts. The results are confidential, and livestock producers are not required to share this information. This test can help identify if runoff is reaching the stream and the potential impact on aquatic life.

The second goal of this plan is to provide written material in the forms of manuals and fact sheets that can assist producers in making decisions on what kinds of manure control structures or management practices will help eliminate runoff from their feedlots.

In addition, ISU Extension will host several field days this year to look at demonstration sites that will highlight different structures and management practices. The demonstration events will also include information about technical and financial resources available.

All this information, including a list of ISU Extension offices that are offering the water quality kits, will be available through the Small Feedlot and Dairy Operations Web page, a subset of the Iowa Manure Management Action Group, at www.agronext.iastate.edu/immag/smallfeedlotsdairy.html.

Specific questions regarding this plan can be addressed to Shawn Shouse, ISU Extension ag engineer, at 712-769-2600, or Angie Rieck-Hinz, Extension program specialist, at 515-294-9590. You may also contact your area ISU Extension ag engineer, beef or dairy specialist, your local DNR field office, or the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association for more details.

Rieck-Hinz is an Iowa State University Extension program specialist.

IMMAG: a 15-year partnership

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the Iowa Manure Management Action Group, better known as IMMAG. IMMAG was a concept born in 1997 to provide a comprehensive vehicle to deliver manure management information.

Fifteen years ago, Web pages were just beginning to be used as vehicles for information sharing. And while information on manure management existed, it was difficult to access, and just not a topic that garnered much positive attention.

As the livestock sector in Iowa changed during that time, it became apparent that a mechanism needed to evolve that could keep livestock producers in tune with changing regulations, up to date on the current research, and informed on best management practices that help ensure manure’s value as a crop nutrient resource and not a waste product.

IMMAG began as state-level technical committee comprised of the livestock commodity groups, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Department of Natural Resources, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship, Iowa State University and other groups with the objectives to provide access to comprehensive information on manure management issues, develop relevant educational materials and provide them in a format that is easily accessible.

The third objective was accomplished with the creation of a Web page that has truly become a valued resource by livestock producers, agency staff and the general public. The site is so popular other states have emulated its design and information.

Now, 15 years later, what was supposed to be a short-term, one-year effort, has turned into a major outreach and education effort for ISU Extension and its partners. “It’s hard to believe that after 15 years this Web page still exists,” says Angie Rieck-Hinz, ISU Extension program specialist and IMMAG coordinator, “but our partners and our users tell us how valuable this resource is to them and continue to support this Web page and our educational and outreach efforts.”

IMMAG also has hosted field days and training workshops over the years, as well as coordinated the development of countless fact sheets, newsletters and other educational pieces. “We will roll out a new look to our site in February,” says Rieck-Hinz, “something that looks a little more like Iowa State and which will be more user-friendly and help prepare us for the future and, hopefully, the next 15 years”. To learn more about IMMAG or to subscribe to the monthly e-newsletter, visit IMMAG at www.agronext.

Partners in the Small Open Lot

Iowa Beef Center/Iowa Manure Management Action Group

Iowa Cattlemen’s Association

Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Iowa Department of Natural Resources

Iowa State Dairy Association

Iowa State University Extension and Outreach

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service


NEW PLAN: Several Iowa groups working together are introducing the Small Open Lot Plan. It’s an educational outreach program to assist operators of small, open feedlots and dairies, to help them address environmental problems.

This article published in the February, 2012 edition of WALLACES FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.

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