Environmental regulations and paperwork overwhelm dairy farmers
Large dairies, those with 700 cows or 1,000 animal units, are all too familiar with the regulatory and record-keeping requirements of environmental rules. But those requirements are now seeping down to smaller operations with two or more animal units per acre, dictating where and how they spread manure and build new facilities. Even more burdensome is the amount of record keeping required.
Requirements have exploded in volume along the Chesapeake Bay watershed, which spans Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. For years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has focused on farms as the primary polluters of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries.
"EPA was unsuccessful in getting what it wanted at the macro level, so it is coming in at the micro level and forcing local communities to implement regulations," says John Frey, executive director of Pennsylvania’s Center for Dairy Excellence. Pennsylvania has arguably been the state hardest hit.
"It has strained individual producers by not allowing them to focus on other critical aspects of their business," says Jeff Ainslie, vice president of Red Barn Consulting (RBC) in Lancaster, Pa. RBC is a full-service ag engineering and consulting firm.
The requirements generate stress and anxiety, and in more than a few cases, they have derailed or completely halted farmers’ desire to grow their operations, he says.
Dairy expansions, for example, must go through four levels of planning: townships, counties, conservation districts and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. These approvals can take six to 18 months to obtain, upsetting the timing of cattle and feed purchases and obtaining loans.
"I would estimate that the average dairy construction project incurs 40% more site-development costs today than they did five years ago," Ainslie says. "One-third of this additional cost is in the form of temporary measures (such as silt fences), and the remainder is in the cost of post-construction stormwater management controls."
But water control and abatement is not the only target. Regulators are also looking at dust and particulate matter.
"During a recent visit at a large dairy, EPA personnel were most concerned about the dust and small particle matter generated by the feed manager who was chopping straw for the ration," Ainslie says. Regulators were concerned the dust would reach ditches and stormwater structures and pollute surface waters.
Speak up; speak out
The Chesapeake Bay Program is one example of regulatory overreach. Analysts say federal and state agencies will use it as a template for other large watersheds, like the Mississippi River basin.
To counteract this push by regulators, policymakers, courts and activists, Farm Journal Media is launching a new advocacy series called America’s Agriculture Challenge.
This multimedia editorial campaign educates and motivates farmers to interact with legislators, regulators and consumers to help them understand what impact these over-the-top regulations have on your ability to produce abundant, affordable food.
For resources and links to help you get started making your voice heard, go to: www.agweb.com/agriculture_challenge.