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County pushes to complete manure management plans

WORTHINGTON -- Farming today is much different from what it was a decade or two ago -- not just from the technology standpoint or even in the increasing number of confinement systems that dot the rural landscape -- but in the rules and regulations that dictate how, when and where livestock manure gets to where it is needed most.

For nearly a year, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has required all livestock producers with more than 300 animal units to have a manure management plan in place. Unlike its neighbor to the south, however, Minnesota has not kept its fertilizer factories in check when it comes to manure application.

In Iowa, for instance, farmers caught violating pollution control regulations face a $3,000 fine, but in Minnesota, they may simply get a slap on the wrist, according to Andy Nesseth, an environmental specialist with Jackson-based Extended Ag Services Inc., a business that works with producers to develop manure management plans.

MPCA's response to violators is anticipated to change, however, as regulations on manure management are phased in across the state.

Al Langseth, Nobles County Feedlot Officer, said Minnesota's feedlot rules were changed in October 2000. In the years since, county officials have worked to permit and register all feedlots within their jurisdiction. With that work now complete in Nobles County, Langseth said they are moving to the next step -- requiring producers to complete a manure management plan to ensure they are not putting an overabundance of nutrients on the soil when manure is applied. Over-application can impact the environment, especially lakes and streams.

"On the regulatory side, we're trying to protect Minnesota's waterways," Langseth said.

Targeted farms

Livestock producers required to have a manure management plan in place are those with 300 or more animal units. An animal unit is equal to roughly 1,000 pounds of animal, therefore, 300 animal units consists of 300 finishing steers; 333 finishing swine, 214 milk cows; 3,000 sheep or 6,000 nursery pigs, Langseth said. Livestock operations with 100 to 299 animal units, while not required to have a manure management plan, are required to keep records on manure handling and application.

"Just about everyone, unless it's a small mom and pop (hobby farm), has to keep records," Langseth said. Records must note when manure was applied on a field, which fields received applications and how much manure was applied per acre.

To comply with MPCA regulations, producers must complete manure and soil nutrient testing for three consecutive years to identify baseline averages, and then test once every four years after that for the manure management plan to remain in compliance. Any alterations made to feeding, bedding or manure storage will also require retesting because of the impact those changes have on nutrient values.

Double the benefits

While the MPCA sees manure management plans as a way to prevent excess nutrients from leaching into waterways, Langseth and Nesseth say the plans are beneficial to livestock producers as well.

"A manure management plan is really just a tool for each farmer to use the manure in a responsible way," said Nesseth. "You want to utilize whatever you put out there ... to maximize the economic returns."

Nutrients including nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are tracked in manure management plans, providing producers with the information they need before applying manure to farm fields. Not putting enough manure on soil depleted of nutrients may result in lower-than-expected crop yields, while too much of one particular nutrient could create environmental issues and a waste of a valuable farm resource.

"(Manure) is really good for the soil if it's not (applied) in a harmful way," said Nesseth.

In addition to restrictions on nutrient levels, producers will be restricted on how much manure can be applied within 300 feet of a conduit to a waterway, Nesseth said. The main concern is the potential for phosphorus to enter the water stream, thereby causing algae blooms or other issues. Producers who incorporate manure, added Langseth, will be allowed to go within 25 feet of a water source.

Nobles County has already taken steps to ensure livestock producers develop a manure management plan. All new construction is required to have a written plan in place prior to the permitting process. Langseth said the next step is to revisit all livestock operations in the county to ensure producers comply with the MPCA regulations.

For more information on manure management plans, contact Langseth at the Nobles County Environmental Services office, 376-3109, or Nesseth at Extended Ag Services Inc., (507) 847-2351.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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