On-farm environmental reviews decrease farmers’ liability

COLUMBUS – When he first heard about it, Kenny Oberholtzer thought the program seemed like a good idea. It was free. It would require little of his time. Most importantly, the environmental challenges that face Oberholtzer’s 160-acre hog farm would be clearly identified by the end of the day.

“We wanted to make sure we were doing OK (environmentally),” Oberholtzer said. “It was a good deal.”

Oberholtzer volunteered his farm, located in Ashland, Ohio, for an on-farm assessment and environmental review, a growing trend for livestock farmers throughout the country.

What is it? On-farm assessments are part of a proactive program that promotes environmental awareness among farmers and improves the public’s perception of farming. The Ohio Livestock Coalition coordinates the program in Ohio and works with America’s Clean Water Foundation, which provides the program’s funding, and Environmental Management Solutions of Des Moines, Iowa.

After three consultants walked around his farm, Oberholtzer received a confidential report that identified the strengths and environmental challenges of his hog operation. Included in the report were some recommendations to improve ventilation in his barns and decrease manure runoff in his fields.

“What they suggested was very reasonable,” Oberholtzer said.

Quick and easy. The process is simple. First, a producer answers questions about his operation on a form provided by the Ohio Livestock Coalition and sets up an appointment for an assessment. Then a team of environmental consultants, trained by Environmental Management Solutions, looks for possible risks areas.

Many of the assessors are extension agents, soil and water conservation district professionals, private environmental consultants or agricultural or civil engineers.

The list of risk areas is comprehensive. It includes such areas as: emergency response plans, safety signs on farm, records of manure/litter transport, mowing, trash disposal, proper vaccination storage, dust and dirt levels of barns and ventilation conditions among other items.

“Every farm out there has an environmental challenge,” said David White, Ohio Livestock Coalition executive director. “Consultants see things you don’t.”

What’s next? After the risks are identified, the assessors provide possible solutions to the producer.

A few weeks after the farm visit, Environmental Management Solutions calls the producer to check if recommendations were followed.

Even though the assessment is voluntary and so is implementing the recommendations, the consultants’ research shows promising results. Ninety percent of the recommendations that required a change in management practice in a standard risk area was implemented and maintained; 100 percent percent of the recommendations for a change in management practice in high risk areas was implemented and maintained.

The program, which is free to farmers as long as it continues to receive federal funding, is open to beef, dairy, poultry, turkey and pork operations of all sizes. White said an assessment would cost the farmer around $2,000 without federal funding.

Roughly 100 assessments have been performed in Ohio, White said. Most of them were completed on hog farms because the Ohio Pork Producers launched a similar program a few years ago that was only available to hog farmers. White said he expects the number of assessments to grow quickly as more promotions for the program are done.

“We’re just now starting to get phone calls from producers asking about the program,” White said.

After completing the program, the producer benefits by reducing his chances to be held liable in a lawsuit, lowering his operating costs and enhancing his acceptance in the community, White said.

Ninety percent of the risks can be addressed by changing a management practice rather than a possibly more expensive structural change, White said.

For additional information about the program, call the Ohio Livestock Coalition at 614-249-2435.

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