It’s clear public attention and interest in environmental aspects of pork production will be as intense in 1998 as they were in 1997.

Among last year’s many significant developments was the dramatic increase in public interest concerning livestock environmental issues. Policy makers, opinion leaders and consumers have focused on pork production.

In conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, the Clinton administration announced a multiagency initiative to address three top environmental issues. Nonpoint-source pollution from agricultural sources was one. The administration gave agencies 120 days to develop nonpoint-source pollution strategies that will include additional regulations. Many policy options are under consideration, including phosphorus-based manure application limits, lower permit thresholds and new facility siting requirements.

At the same time, debate within states has intensified as regulating the pork industry becomes or remains a top-burner issue with state legislators, attorneys general and other opinion leaders.

At the state, county and township levels, moratoriums are being considered and implemented. Lawsuits involving pork operations can be found in district courts up to state supreme courts.

Public debate regarding pork-related environmental issues has progressed at different speeds in different states. In states like Iowa, Minnesota and North Carolina producers have been dealing with these issues for five years or longer.

Those experiences will provide guidance for producers in states where the issue has recently surfaced. All three branches of government have been involved: legislative, executive and judicial.

At all levels, the issues center on water quality and odor. Manure storage facility design, manure management and land application, setback distances to address odor, and water quality get most of the attention. Discussion rapidly progresses to details such as the acceptable percolation rate for a compacted clay liner, accepted nutrient uptake rates for various crops in various soils, percentage of manure nutrients available to crops in the first year of application, and the legal role of the design engineer or the custom manure applicator.

Frequently, the environmental discussion is impossible to separate from the industry structure issue. That’s especially true in the upper Midwest and northern Plains states. Agreeing about what a family farm looks like now, and predicting how it will look in the future, is a politically inescapable part of this discussion in some states.

It’s important to understand that this is not a one-session or even a single-issue concern. In several states, this topic has been on the legislative agenda for years, spanning multiple election cycles and changes in leadership.

For many states, interim studies or blue-ribbon committees have become a nearly permanent part of the docket. State environmental regulatory agencies are often in the middle of rewriting administrative rules related to pork production, while in the judicial branch, lawsuits seek to define the language adopted by local or state elected officials or agencies.

For example, in three years, three lawsuits involving hog facilities have made it to the Iowa Supreme Court.

The discussion at the federal level is equally important. The National Environmental Dialogue on Pork Production has provided an opportunity for the pork industry to interact with regulatory agencies, which are under increasing pressure to further restrict livestock operations. Representatives of EPA, USDA, six state environmental or agricultural agencies and five pork producers have participated in dialogue facilitated by America’s Clean Water Foundation.  

The goal is to produce a framework of cost-effective, economically viable standard operating procedures that can apply to all pork producers. Discussions have focused on four areas:

1. Data and technical issues.

2. Regulations and oversight.

3. Facility location and siting.

4. Public involvement.

This framework could serve as a tool for regulatory discussions at all levels.

A key point: With environmental discussions covering complex technical issues – like water quality, odor and facility design and complex political and legal issues – such as land use, industry structure, and local vs. state control there’s not a single bill, administrative rule or lawsuit that will magically resolve the issue.

Producers in all states must realize that if they’re in the pork business for the long haul, they must engage in the public debate for the long haul as well. 

Our industry makes its own headlines when any manure problems occur. To ensure good performance on both odor and water quality issues, you will have to apply the same systems approach to environmental management that you apply in other production areas. In the same way that you can’t maximize reproductive or feed efficiencies with a single technology, environmental management will involve a conscious decision to analyze the operation’s weak points and apply solutions.

The National Pork Producers Council is committed to helping producers implement a systems approach to environmental management. Participation in programs like the Environmental Assurance and On-Farm Odor Management Assistance
Programs are tools that our industry must use to ensure such professionalism.

I’m optimistic our industry can meet our environmental challenges. As a class of business people, pork producers are extraordinary problem solvers, both as individuals and as an entire industry.

Andy Baumart is National Pork Producers Council’s environmental affairs director.

State Snapshot: The Heat Is On

Nebraska’s environmental issues have intensified lately. Working in an agricultural coalition, which also includes banks and chambers of commerce, the Nebraska Pork Producers Association is seeking to bring sound science and common sense into the debate.

Several issues and events will reach a critical turning point in the months ahead. One such issue is: Who will make decisions that regulate pork production ù federal, state, county or township governments? Pork producers believe there must be some consistency in regulations.

Another issue is the huge backlog of pending building permits at the Department of Environmental Quality. The state’s producers are at a competitive disadvantage because of continual changes in requirements at the DEQ.

The Nebraska legislature also will be in hot debate over agriculture-related bills and issues. For example, some groups are pushing to impose a moratorium on livestock expansion in the state. Pork producers and other agriculture groups are adamantly opposed to this move.

The constitutional amendment, known as Initiative 300, which limits corporate investment and ownership in agriculture in Nebraska, is being evaluated for its effect on the state’s economic well-being.

Some are concerned that it limits producer networking options and seriously impairs producers’ opportunities to compete.

Nebraska is fortunate to have adequate packing capacity. A big concern among small producers is that market access will disappear if hog numbers don’t grow.

All of these issues will impact Nebraska’s pork industry. It’s disturbing that this state has lost 20 percent of its pork production and nearly 50 percent of its producers in the last five years. With abundant feed grains and a culture traditionally supportive of pork production, the turnabout in public perception toward the industry is disconcerting.

Agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry. The agricultural coalition will carry that message to decision-makers throughout Nebraska. The 1998 elections will be a platform for debating issues that will direct agriculture’s future. It also will offer an opportunity to highlight the importance of a progressive, growing farming economy to the state’s economic health.

Coalition members agree that agriculture must act collectively to reverse current trends.

Submitted by Bob Ruggles, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association.