During a conflict, it’s usually wise to have the people involved sit down and talk. Some of you have had first-hand experience with that challenge as you’ve tried to expand, upgrade or build a new hog operation in the past few years.

And while such dialogue is essential, it’s not always successful.

In the months ahead, you will be hearing about a specific dialogue – The National Environmental Dialogue on Pork Production. It took place between pork producers, USDA, the Environmental Protection Agency, state agricultural and environmental officials. It included only one environmental group – most walked out early in the process.

The exception is Washington-based America’s Clean Water Foundation, a nonprofit public service group that brought the coalition together.

The goal was to develop a blueprint, framework, road map (you’ll hear those words a lot) for consistent, science-based environmental regulations for U.S. pork production. The result of eight months of compromise: the “Recommended Comprehensive Environmental Framework for Pork Production Operations.”

First off, you need to get a copy of this report. (See page 40 for information.) Then get a strong pot of coffee and a lawyer or manure management specialist and review it for yourself.

Within its pages you will find recommendations, some more specific than others, about manure storage facilities, operator training, recordkeeping, facility siting, land application and much more. What exactly this report means will have you scratching your head.

It is not a proposed bill or  government program. It’s not legally binding. Instead, it is a “blueprint, framework, road map” for future environmental laws addressing pork production.

In that context, it’s an impressive document. Clearly, people of various views tried to find solutions that would make growing your business a more logical and fair process nationwide.

But manna it is not. And anyone who tries to convince you of its powers of salvation is not being either objective or realistic.

The proposal does hold all pork producers regardless of operation size to high environmental standards. It has zero-tolerance for bad actors and it requires training, recordkeeping and periodic on-farm inspections. Most things you should be doing already.

The flaw is in the hope that this document (or any other) will level the playing field for all pork producers.

First, consider that the report is waiting for a legislator or government agency to embrace it. A few agencies have said they “will consider the recommendations carefully” as they develop programs. However, what comes out may look nothing like what went in.

Within the original document there is some flexibility, allowing decisions on a case or area basis. It also gives the “regulator” decision making powers. Neither will cultivate a level field. 

Even if the Dialogue report becames a federal law, our government is structured to allow states and localities to pass laws that are more restrictive than the federal version. The problems most pork producers face today have less to do with unrealistic state laws or uncooperative government agencies than with county and township governing boards making rules as they go.

States with little or no environmental standards for pork operations would benefit from a federal law. At least it would  temper some of the production exodus to those states. 

One bothersome point in the Dialogue report has to do with the directive for more research in areas “where science has not yet provided explanations or answers.” Such examples included: odor production and distribution, water quality, soil phosphorous holding capacity and off-site migration of pollutants.

I’m all for research. However, the document just admitted that science was lacking in those areas. Doesn’t that give critics weaknesses to point to in the science-based standards? 

The document also suggests it can help “shield” producers who implement the recommendations from “frivolous nuisance suits.” More realistically, such a program may help support your case if you ever wound up in court.

Only time will tell whether the Dialogue’s recommendations will contribute to more reasonable environmental regulations for the pork industry. 

Truly the key word here is dialogue. The fact that these varied and credible people discussed this issue in detail is impressive. At the very least, it is an excellent public relations move, which makes it a worthy activity. The environmental groups’ absence and the pork producers’ presence shows you are proactive and sincere. And that might just impress the right person at the right time.