Kevin Elder wasn’t looking to become Ohio’s megafarm czar. But when ODA Director Fred Dailey asked ODNR head Sam Speck for permission to talk to Elder about the new ODA livestock division position, it was the least Elder could do to hear the man out.
“I wasn’t really looking for it, I guess,” said Elder, 47, who drew up a list of pros and cons before saying yes to Dailey and leaving the ODNR where he’s been manure king since 1986.
I call Kevin that because any time I’ve had to do a story on manure management or new livestock waste regulations, he’s been the first person I’ve called. But I’ve also worked with him on numerous stories, including best management practices for agricultural mitigation along the proposed Independence Pipeline, because of his deep knowledge of farming practices and soil and water conservation. I count on him to be straightforward, familiar with regulations and full of common sense. He’ll take those traits with him to ODA to oversee the new large livestock operation regulations.
He’ll need that arsenal of traits and more. The web of livestock operation regulations is a tangled one that includes multiple state and federal rules and jurisdictions (and related turf battles). And the issue of large livestock operations is a hot debate, too, one that’s placed environmentalists on one side and production agriculture on the other. But it’s a debate I think Elder is capable of moderating.
“I do see this position as an opportunity to develop some common ground, for dialogue,” he said. “Participate in the public rule-making process and learn from both sides.”
Although the new ODA division will only regulate Ohio’s largest farms, smaller livestock operations aren’t off the hook. There is no doubt that more regulations are coming (or are here) for all-sized livestock operations.
The new state law that gives ODA its new authority also gives additional authority to the ODNR to police farms with less than 1,000 animal units that are operating in an “environmentally unsound manner.”
And federal regs are also cracking down on the little guys, too. By 2008, all livestock farms will have to have a nutrient (manure) management plan in place – and in practice.
Elder admits there’s room for improvement on the ag side. But he’s seen a growing farmer awareness of agriculture’s environmental impacts and is hopeful that a similar awareness of agriculture’s importance will build in the general population.
“The better educated everyone is, the less we need more regulations,” Elder said. “We need to have a better understanding of each other.”