The state of enviornmental regulations as they affect agriculture is in constant motion. Farmers who fail to stay asbreast of environmental updates are risking their livelihoods. In continuing our look down “The Road to the Future” started in last week’s Progress Edition, Farm and Dairy hears from Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.
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Farm and Dairy: What kind of permitting process and regulation for large-scale livestock farms is going to be necessary to protect water quality in the future?
Gov. Taft: As the General Assembly evaluates and recommends changes in the way we regulate CAFOs now, the Taft administration’s view remains the same: No matter which agency oversees these large farms, the state regulations governing them will need to be comprehensive but consistent, clear and fair.
They should require that CAFOs follow modern best management practices (BMPs), especially regarding safe manure storage, to minimize the potential adverse effects of large concentrations of stored manure. Operational BMPs should be in place, especially with respect to transporting manure and applying it to farm fields as fertilizer.
And Ohio CAFOs will need to go beyond water quality concerns and abide by other BMPs to minimize potential health and nuisance problems in the areas of fly and rodent control. These CAFOs should undergo periodic on-farm inspections with a focus on maintaining regulatory compliance and minimizing the potential for mishaps that could lead to water quality degradation.
Farm and Dairy: What kind of changes might the average-sized livestock operation be required to make to meet tightening environmental restrictions on waste management?Gov. Taft: While the focus lately has been on farms with 1,000 animal units or more, smaller livestock operations will not be immune from the U.S. EPA mandates that seek to minimize the threat of water pollution from AFOs — nor to the increasing intensity of the public’s attention to this issue.
By 2002, the U.S. EPA may require that some livestock operations with even less than 1,000 animal units obtain a federal permit. The same basic best management practices that the largest farms are being required to follow will invariably be needed as a basic framework for pollution-prevention at average size operations in the future.
Some of this is in place now. For example, if it is determined that a smaller livestock farm with less than 1,000 animal units is harming the waters of the state, ODNR will work with the farms to develop management plans to correct and minimize the threat of water pollution.
Farm and Dairy: What do you see as the future in federal policy and/or state policy toward Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations?
Gov. Taft: The current federal administration is demanding that all CAFOs of 1,000-plus animal units be required to operate under federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits. It has also announced that within two years, all 300-plus animal unit operations may have to get a federal NPDES permit.
The federal administration’s authority to make such demands is hotly disputed by many in the farm community, and the issue is not yet resolved.
Regardless of whether or not Ohio CAFO and AFOs will be required to operate under a state or federal permit, state policy-making will focus on putting in place clear, consistent, comprehensive and fair regulations enforced by state regulators who have a commanding knowledge of modern livestock production.
Farm and Dairy: Is Ohio becoming less friendly to livestock production? Are large animal operations welcome in our state?
Gov. Taft: The Taft Administration believes that livestock production is a critical component of our state’s economy, and we want to foster an environment where livestock and poultry production can prosper.
Many elements contribute to that success, including protecting the good name and reputation of agriculture and making sure agriculture operations co-exist successfully with their neighbors.
Of course, the need to protect the environment and the public’s health is critical.
In our public debates, we need to better distinguish real threats to the public welfare from exaggerated worries about farming. Fostering a better understanding and appreciation of production agriculture among non-farmers will be critical to the long-term success of Ohio’s agricultural economy.
Farm and Dairy: What is the best way to reach Ohio’s goals of natural resource protection?
Gov. Taft: Only with cooperation between industry and government will that goal be reached. Reasonable regulations based on sound science must be in place and farmers must manage their operations in a way that does not degrade the environment.
It bears repeating that government has the responsibility to make sure the rules are comprehensive but consistent, fair and clear.
Also, and I want to stress this again, government regulations should be based on sound science and common sense.
Finally, environmental protection goals are more easily reached when farmers — especially small- and medium-sized farmers — are given incentives to implement new and innovative technologies and practices.