Fight seen over ban on winter spreading of manure

February 14, 2010 , DES MOINES REGISTER

Another showdown looms over Iowa’s regulations governing farmers’ ability to spread manure on frozen or snow-covered fields. 
Livestock interests are pushing legislation that would effectively lift the winter ban on applying manure, said Wayne Gieselman, the state’s environmental protection chief. 
State environmental regulators vow to fight to retain the ban on spreading manure in the winter because they say the practice can lead to dangerous ammonia levels in streams.

Eldon McAfee, a lawyer for livestock interests, contends the new legislation is needed. He said a proposed rule drafted by Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources would force some farmers to add expensive manure storage without much warning. 
House File 2324 and Senate File 2229 would exempt those farms from requirements that they install more manure storage to comply with last year’s law. That would allow the controversial manure applications. 
The current law generally bans application of manure between Dec. 21 and April 1 each year.

Legislation enacted last year allows application in an emergency, but the rule proposed by DNR would make it tougher to do that. 
"Ten years in a row is not an emergency," Gieselman said. 
The state’s efforts to ban the practice – and farmers’ pledges to avoid a ban – go back a decade. 
"At some point, it has to stop," Gieselman said. "This is a bad practice." 
Ammonia from the manure is toxic to fish and plants and can worsen levels of nitrogen, which contributes to a so-called dead zone in summertime in the Gulf of Mexico’s lucrative shrimping grounds.

Iowa spends millions every year to monitor and clean Iowa’s fertilizer-laced lakes and streams. 
McAfee said Iowa law prohibits farmers from allowing manure to run into waterways. The problem, he said, is that livestock farmers were not prepared for the expense of adding storage in a weak economy. 
Many consider it a questionable investment when they can usually find a way to apply the manure when the ground is not frozen or covered with snow. 
Farmers use manure as crop fertilizer. Generally, they don’t apply manure to frozen or snow-covered fields because they know the manure will run off with the snowmelt, robbing the next crop of the nitrogen and phosphorus in the livestock waste.

Environmentalists are furious at the latest development in a years-long battle over the practice. 
"They don’t want any regulation at all," said Garry Klicker of Bloomfield, a member of the group Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said of livestock producers. 
CCI member Lori Nelson of Bayard, who lives near 5,000 hogs in the Raccoon River watershed, said, "It’s not our problem if they don’t have any storage." 
She said there are taxpayer-supported programs that help farms increase manure-storage capacity.

Rosemary Partridge, a CCI member who lives near Breda in Carroll County, said allowing the manure applications would violate the U.S. Clean Water Act. 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said as much in a letter to state officials last year. 
Since the ban was enacted last year, 43 farmers have asked for waivers allowing them to spread manure on snow-covered or frozen ground, Gieselman said. 
The state approved those requests, then told the farmers they need to arrange for more storage, Gieselman said.

Most modern hog confinements can store a year’s worth of manure and don’t have trouble getting through the winter without applying. Still, pork producers have lobbied against a ban on manure applications in case they run into trouble, McAfee said. 
Dairy farms and open cattle feedlots tend to have smaller storage systems, They qualify, in some cases, for state and federal loans or grants to build more storage, Gieselman said.