Farmers discuss feedlot rules at meeting

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 2/9/00.

farm meeting At least 175 people attended a feedlot and manure management informational meeting in Roscoe on Wednesday, Feb. 2.

The meeting, sponsored by the Stearns County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), lasted from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. It included updates on the state feedlot rules and the Stearns County feedlot ordinance. There were also sessions on manure management and about programs offered by the SWCD and the NRCS.

The first session dealt with the revision of the state's feedlot rules by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). Right now, the proposed rules are open for public comment. A meeting was held recently to take public testimony, and another will be held today at St. John's University in Collegeville.

Dave Johnson of the MPCA told the farmers that the zero discharge will be phased in over the next decade. The state wants farmers to reduce their discharge of nutrients, mainly manure, by 50 percent by 2003. Full compliance of zero discharge would be required in 2009.

Zero discharge, Johnson said, is measured by 25 parts per million of biochemical oxygen demand. "Because run-off from feedlots are so high in nutrients, it takes a very small amount of run-off to reach those levels," he said.

The goal, according to Johnson, is to have farmers treat manure as a resource and not have it run off and influence surface waters in the state.

Several questions were directed at the cost of compliance. One farmer predicted that producers would be eliminated by the extra expenses. Another wondered how the state expected producers to pick up the costs, because they are unable to pass the costs on to the consumers.

Johnson said his department was responsible only for the rules, and any state subsidies for projects would need to be discussed in the Legislature. He also stressed that the goal would be to solve potential pollution problems through low-cost options.

Steve Sellnow, district conservationist for the NRCS, talked more about low-cost options in his afternoon session that explained the programs offered by the SWCD and the NRCS. "They're trying to clean up the environment, not to put anyone out of business," Sellnow said.

More stringent requirements, with extra costs, will be required of larger producers, but low-cost options-including fencing from streams, buffer areas, and gutters on barns-exist for farmers.

"These are things we can do. We can make it work," added Sellnow, who described himself as pro-farmer and pro-livestock.

The SWCD and the NRCS have state, federal, and local money to help with projects. More importantly, they can provide the technical assistance to find low-cost alternatives. "If I was a livestock producer, and I'm not," said Sellnow, "I wouldn't panic."

The state rules would be superceded by more restrictive rules at the local level. Stearns County already has a feedlot ordinance in effect. Lenny Hulbert of Stearns County Environmental Services was at the meeting to update the farmers on the status of the ordinance.

Farmers, he reminded them, have until Sept. 18, 2000, to register their feedlot with the county. As of Jan. 1, 2000, only 761 feedlots had been registered. The county estimates there are 2,800 feedlots in the county.

"You have nothing to lose by doing it. You get your setback grandfathered in," said Hulbert.

Stearns County Environmental Services will be having a registration workshop at the city hall in St. Martin on Monday, Feb. 14, from 9 a.m. to noon. Their staff will help farmers fill out the registration.

The advantage to being registered is having your setbacks set at their present levels. Without that, a feedlot would need to meet all the conditions of the ordinance to expand or in the event of a complaint. Then a variance would most likely be needed for the existing operation, and Hulbert predicted that the Board of Adjustments would want to know why the feedlot wasn't registered.

Inspections of feedlots by the county will be done with priority going to those with a high risk for pollution, according to Hulbert. The top of the list includes those near shoreland (300' from a stream or 1000' from a lake), those in coarse textured soils, and those with unpermitted earthen basins.

The feedlot review committee, which makes recommendations about feedlots to the planning board, includes Ray Loxtercamp of Lake Henry Township.

In the afternoon, a round table discussion about manure management was held that featured Steve McCorquodale talking about the solid application of turkey litter. Another session discussed aspects of written manure application agreements.

A meeting of the same nature was held previously this year in Melrose. Last year, the SWCD and the NRCS held two similar meetings as well, including one at the Roadside Tavern in Roscoe.

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