By Todd Neeley
DTN Staff Reporter
OMAHA (DTN) -- A bill to place tougher restrictions on winter manure applications in Iowa passed a first hurdle Wednesday, as a subcommittee in the Iowa Senate approved the legislation. State environmental groups and others tout the bill as important to improving water quality in the state, while a livestock group opposed to it calls the bill an overreach.
The Iowa Senate Natural Resources and Environment Subcommittee voted 2-1 to move the bill to the full committee.
The bill advanced by the subcommittee Wednesday would require a number of changes to state law when it comes to manure applications. The state's ban on spreading manure from confined animal feeding operations would be strengthened to include when the ground is frozen or snow-covered, when the ground is water-saturated, when the 24-hour weather forecast calls for one-half inch of rain or more, and when the ground is sloped at 20% or higher.
The agriculture industry, in particular confined animal feeding operations, have faced increased scrutiny in recent years following the release of the state's voluntary nutrient reduction strategy currently being implemented. In addition, farmers and rural communities in the Des Moines area are likely to be sued by Des Moines Water Works as it continues efforts to filter nitrates from the Raccoon River.
Under current law, a person may apply manure originating from an animal feeding operation on snow-covered or frozen ground, except during a period beginning in winter and ending in early spring. An exception allows such applications if there is an emergency, the manure originates from a small animal feeding operation, or if the manure is injected or incorporated.
Dal Grooms, communications director for the Iowa Cattlemen's Association, said her group is opposed to the bill because it would place an unnecessary regulatory burden on Iowa farmers who already follow a set of rules.
"There are laws and rules currently in place that protect Iowa's surface waters from improper manure applications to farm fields and pastures," she said in a statement to DTN. "Iowa farmers are probably some of the keenest consumers of weather forecasting. However, a law that dictates they must make a key management decision based on a prediction of a 50% chance of receiving a 1/4-inch or more of precipitation seems like government overreach. Iowa cattle producers recognize the nutrient value of their manure, and would not jeopardize the loss of time or economics by applying manure when it would have minimal agronomic effect."
Grooms said many cattle feeders targeted by the bill already have government-approved manure management plans and/or nutrient management plans. Those plans require producers to comply in a number of ways. That includes incorporating liquid manure on snow-covered and/or frozen ground, applying manure according to the separation distances for tile inlets and surface waters, among other things.
"These legal restrictions don't even take into account the best-management practices cattle producers are also using," she said.
The bill would set administrative civil penalties for violations of up to $10,000, or judicially assessed penalties of up to $5,000 a day per violation.
ENVIROMENTAL GROUP SUPPORT
A number of members of the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund touted the subcommittee's action.
"This bill is commonsense," said Barb Kalbach, board president of Iowa CCI Action Fund and a fourth-generation farmer, in a press release. "You can't spread manure when it's not safe -- period. Anyone who's against this bill is against clean water."
The bill moved out of the subcommittee on a partisan vote, with Democratic Sens. Joe Bolkcom of Iowa City, and Janet Petersen of Des Moines voting yes. Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, cast the dissenting vote. Rozenboom is co-owner of Rosewood Farms in Mahaska County.
DTN's attempt to reach Rozenboom was unsuccessful.
Cherie Mortice, a CCI Action Fund member, said in a statement that a change in the law is necessary to further protect water.
"These clear definitions on when manure shouldn't be applied really are commonsense," she said in a press release. "Farmers who care about protecting Iowa's water would never spread manure under these conditions, but unfortunately voluntary compliance just doesn't work."
According to Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action fund, a number of lobbying groups have come out in favor of the proposal, including the Iowa Farmer's Union. The regional utility Des Moines Water Works is also in favor. So far, just the Iowa Cattlemen's Association has expressed public opposition to the measure.
EXISTING STATE LAW
The Iowa Legislature passed legislation in 2009 that limits surface application of liquid manure from confinement feeding operations during the winter, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. The law restricts manure application except in emergency situations.
The number of requests for emergency application of manure in Iowa has dropped in recent years, according to a February 2013 IDNR report.
There were 43 such requests in the winter of 2009-2010, according to IDNR, nine in winter 2010-2011, zero in 2011-2012 and just two in 2012-2013.
Confinements large enough to require a manure management plan -- operations with more than 500 animals -- are prohibited from surface applying if manure cannot be injected or incorporated from Dec. 21 to April 1 on snow-covered ground, and Feb. 1 to April 1 if the ground is frozen.
The legislature defined what constitutes an emergency, and a failure to properly account for the manure volume to be stored is not an emergency. The law gives several examples of emergencies, indicating they would be limited to infrequent events that could generally not be avoided such as a natural disaster, unusual weather conditions, or equipment or structural failure.
In 2010, producers who were concerned about having enough manure storage asked the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission for more time to improve storage capacity. The commission allowed confinement producers with inadequate storage to make emergency applications through the winter of 2014-2015.
According to IDNR, there are about 5,500 confinement feeding operations in the state that are required to have manure management plans, and to keep records of manure application and plan changes. The operations are required to submit annual updates.
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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