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Manure in the Courtroom: What does it mean for your farm?
Within the last few months, manure has been making a lot of news in the court system. First, in late December, the Wisconsin Supreme Court declared manure as a pollutant, and then in mid-January, a federal judge in the Eastern District of Washington ruled that when mishandled, manure could be classified as a solid waste under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. So, what do these decisions mean in terms our animal agriculture and our manure management decisions here in Iowa?
Let’s start with the Wisconsin Supreme Court case. This case was about a dairy farmer who allegedly caused groundwater contamination by spreading manure on his fields. The court ruled that it wasn’t covered by his farm liability insurance policy, since the policy had a pollution exclusion cause. The court found that despite the fact that manure can be a great fertilizer, it became a pollutant when it caused harm, such as it did when it entered a well. That is, just because the manure is beneficial when it is spread, doesn’t mean that it isn’t a pollutant. A previous case in Iowa has said that manure could be a pollutant when spilled on a road, but made no statement about when the manure was utilized for crop production.
At the current time, this decision is only binding in Wisconsin, but it does suggest a few important issues of which we need to be aware. In particular, you need to understand what your policy does, and does not cover. If you were faced with defending a similar lawsuit, does your policy have a similar pollution exclusion clause? If so, your insurance company may be under no obligation to pay a resulting judgment against your farm or even provide a legal defense for the case. Sit down with your insurance agent and have a conversation about what your policy may or may not cover. Go in with questions and hypothetical situations and ask what protection your policy would provide. For example, an uninsured driver hits your manure application equipment and creates a spill; are you covered for not only the damage to your equipment but also the cleanup of the spilled manure or any fish that are killed?
So what about the Washington case? In this case, it was ruled that manure could be classified as a solid waste and as such could be regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). The RCRA was enacted in 1976 and governs the disposal of solid and hazardous waste and was meant to ensure that these materials would be disposed of using environmentally sound methods. In this case, the judge ruled manure falls under a solid waste classification if it has been discarded or abandoned, but it doesn’t apply to manure being used as a fertilizer as long as an appropriate manure management plan is created and followed.
What does this mean for our farms? This finding was based on the farm not using their manure as an effective fertilizer resource. Taking proactive steps to manage our manure as the good fertilizer it can be and not treating it as a waste may have resulted in a different decision in this case. Continuing to implement practices like developing and following our manure management plans, adjusting our application rates based on the manure’s actual nutrient content and our soil’s fertility, applying at appropriate times and using methods to conserve the fertilizer value, and documenting this process will help demonstrate you are valuing the manure, and not treating it as a waste. These steps should apply to all farms, regardless of whether or not you are legally required to have a manure management plan.
Manure management on acreages and small farms.
There are many benefits to living on a rural acreage or small farm, with the opportunity to raise livestock as a food source being one of them. Many times these landowners have a small chicken flock, a few goats or maybe even a few beef or swine. If livestock are kept, one of the challenges is what to do with the accumulated manure produced by the animals. More information and the complete article can be found at here.
Soil Nitrogen Cycling and Budgeting and Drainage and Nitrate Loss
Drs. Castellano, assistant professor of agronomy, and Helmers, a professor in agricultural and biosystems engineering, created a video discussing nitrogen cycling in, and loss from Iowa crop systems as well as strategies for reducing nitrate loss. The video can be viewed here.
The IMMAG Events page is a compilation of manure management related events. Please check the events page often for new listings.
North American Manure Expo will be held in Chambersburg, PA on July 14-15, 2015. The theme this is “Manure Than You Can Handle.” The two day event will consist of tours on the 14th and vendor displays, educational opportunities, and manure technology demonstrations on the 15th. For more information or to register for the event go to www.manureexpo.org; additional details are also available on their Facebook page.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is hosting a webinar on April 29th at 1:00 PM on using the Manure Management Planner (MMP) software in nutrient planning and to develop CNMPs. More information and a link to the webinar can be found here.
The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is hosting a webinar on May 19th at 1:00 PM on Using RUSLE2 to Accurately determine soil loss for conservation compliance. More information and a link to the webinar can be found here.
The Waste to Worth 2015 conference was held on March 30 in Seattle, WA. If you missed it but are wondering what was discussed proceedings articles are now available and can be found here.
Iowa Manure Management Action Group
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