Environmental seal of approval: Pa. certification process accredits livestock management practices

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HARRISBURG, Pa. – Being a good neighbor on a farm these days means more than lending equipment and lending a hand.

Most farms are no longer isolated, and most neighbors are not farmers.

More than ever, producers have to demonstrate that they can operate in an environmentally friendly manner that doesn’t pollute the water or air or impact the health of the neighborhood.

In Pennsylvania, PennAg Industries Association and a coalition of county conservation districts are turning the national on-farm assessment and environmental review program developed by America’s Clean Water Foundation into an environmental certification program.

Producers who go through the program will earn a Pennsylvania Environmental, Agricultural, and Conservation Certificate of Excellence that testifies to the livestock operation’s willingness to adopt best management practices to create a sound environmental operation.

The on-farm assessment and environmental review program is a national livestock industry initiative supported by a grant from Congress, designed to move the agriculture industry toward self-regulation.

America’s Clean Water Foundation developed it first for pork producers, and it is now expanded to include dairy, beef, and poultry operations.

What’s covered.

Assessors take a look at five key environmental risk management areas: overall site management, building and lot management, manure storage and handling, mortality management, and nutrient management.

They are particularly looking for problems in run-off and in odor and pest control.

The assessment evaluates current practices, and makes suggestions for better management practices that can improve environmental performance.

The experience in the 1,000+ assessments made through this program is that most risk factors can be addressed through low-cost changes in how things are being done.

A national training program offered through America’s Clean Water Foundation is now under way in at least 10 states.

PennAg industries took advantage of that training. At the end of March, a four-day session was held in Lancaster, Pa., to train 40 assessors for the state program, including producers, extension personnel, conservation district personnel, and agency and ag industry people.

Although assessors are available nationally through the Clean Water Foundation and producers’ associations, the county conservation districts were interested in having a corps of assessors within the state, said Amy Van Blaricum of Penn Ag.

For inviting the trainees to use their farms as a training site, Brubaker Farm, a 600-cow dairy operated in Mount Joy by Luke Brubaker and his sons, and Wenger’s Feed Mills, a poultry operation in Rheems, received complete environmental assessments of their operations.

Three-step process.

The certificate initiative is a three-step process. It is currently being developed and evaluated as a pilot program in Lancaster, Chester, and Berks counties, but will eventually be offered statewide.

The pilot program, which will be completed by next January, is testing the assessment and certification on 30 farms – 10 dairy, 10 poultry, and 10 swine.

Starting this year, the organization has been offering producers a basic course in environmental knowledge. So far about 300 people have completed the course.

When a producer has taken the course, the farm is eligible for the on-farm assessment completed by a team of trained assessors.

The team makes recommendations, and when the producer has put them into practice, another on-farm evaluation by the local conservation district will verify that the producer has implemented the recommendations.

The producer will then be eligible for the state certificate.

By offering producers a free and confidential assessment, the program helps producers figure out how they can minimize the impact of livestock production on their local watershed, .

It’s not necessary for any producer to go through the PennAg program, she said. Any producer can contact the Clean Water Foundation or their producer organization to arrange for an assessment.

But with environmental issues as tough as they are, many producers would like to have something tangible to attest to their efforts. Van Blaricum said the awarding of the certificates is expected to impact public perception of what agriculture is doing to police itself.

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Pa. receives grant for poultry farm assessment program

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Pennsylvania, along with two other states, Georgia and Virginia, received a three-year, multi-state federal grant to implement and test environmental management assessment tools for the poultry industry.

Amanda Mende recently joined the staff of PennAg Industries Association, an agricultural trade association based in Harrisburg, to serve as project coordinator.

She will be visiting 30 poultry farms in Pennsylvania (10 broiler, 10 layer and 10 turkey farms) to develop environmental assessment tools on these farms (in consultation with the farm managers), and then determine their success as they are implemented.

By August, 30 cooperator farms will be selected to participate in the program and on-farm environmental assessments will begin.

Then there will be evaluations of the on-farm assessment tools and procedures, and a stakeholder meeting will be held to gather outside input from the results of the on-farm assessments.

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