When it comes to the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation rules, knowing if and where your operation fits is one of the bigger challenges you face.

The Environmental Protection Agency passed a baseline set of rules, but it’s up to individual state agencies to impose those rules and pass stricter ones if they so desire.

The final CAFO rules went into effect in April 2003 and require that all CAFOs apply for permit coverage by April 2006. Nutrient management plans must be developed and implemented by Dec. 31, 2006 (or sooner if required based on individual circumstances.)

To help you determine where you fit in, here are some of the more significant changes that will affect your operation, according to Roberta Parry, senior agriculture specialist with EPA’s Office of Water.

First, here are the operation classifications to which the regulations will apply:

  • Large CAFOs = 2,500 pigs or more, each weighing 55 pounds or more; or 10,000 pigs, each weighing less than 55 pounds.
  • Medium CAFOs = 750 to 2,499 pigs, each weighing 55 pounds or more; or 3,000 to 9,999 pigs, each weighing less than 55 pounds.

Even though the rules apply mostly to large and medium CAFOs (under certain circumstances), small operations also may be affected.

If you’re comparing numbers with other ag sectors, it takes 700 dairy cows or 1,000 beef cattle, heifers or veal to constitute a large CAFO. While medium CAFO thresholds are 200 to 699 dairy cows and 300 to 999 beef cattle, heifers and veal.

Take note that for all of the compliance thresholds, EPA is using the actual animal numbers, not “animal units” as in past regulations.

In some cases, farm size doesn’t matter. If an inspection by your state permitting authority reveals that manure or wastewater from your pork operation is polluting surface waters, you may need to obtain a CAFO permit regardless of the operation’s size.

One significant change in the final rule is that all CAFOs must apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit unless EPA or your state permitting authority determines that your operation has “no potential to discharge”.  Unlike the requirements of EPA’s prior regulations, all CAFOs must obtain permit coverage even if they would discharge only in extreme weather conditions (such as a 25-year, 24-hour storm).

For manure land-application requirements, you must have a nutrient-management plan in place by the end of 2006, which provides for adequate storage, proper management of mortalities, clean storm water diversion from the production area, conservation practices, land application at agronomic rates and other measures. For large CAFOs, you must have specific setbacks or vegetative buffers in place.

For new swine CAFOs, you have to meet a higher no discharge standard – called “New Source Performance Standards.” That means any new manure-storage facility must be designed to prevent any discharge except if a rainstorm exceeds a 100-year/24-hour storm. The current design standard for lagoons in most states is to prevent discharge in the presence of 25-year/24-hour storms.

Another change for large CAFOs is that the production area requirements include:

  • Visual inspections, and a plan to take any corrective actions as needed.
  • Depth markers in liquid manure-storage structures.
  • No disposal of mortalities in the wastewater handling system.
  • Recordkeeping related to inspections, depth marker readings, corrective measures, mortality management and storage-structure design.

Large CAFOs also must keep detailed records of land- application practices, including dates of application, weather conditions, soil and manure testing, and calculations of the total nitrogen and phosphorus applied to individual fields.

Another addition is the type of information you must submit in your annual report to your permitting authority. The report will need to include:

  • The number and type of animals on your operation.
  • Amount of manure and wastewater generated.
  • Amount of manure and wastewater transferred.
  • Manure land-application acres covered by the nutrient-management plan.
  • Land-application acres used in the previous 12 months.
  • Summary of production area discharges.
  • Indicate whether a certified planner developed your NMP.

“These rules were substantially affected by the National Environmental Dialogue on Pork Production” says Dave Roper, a National Pork Producers Council past president, Kimberly, Idaho. “The Dialogue may not have been popular at first, but we spent an entire year working out a framework that has served us well.”

“As far as this final rule goes, our (NPPC) attorneys advised us that the environmental groups wouldn’t be happy with how it turned out, and these groups have filed their own lawsuit.  But for us, even though the rule is generally balanced there are several areas that need to be clarified and/or changed so they don’t adversely affect pork producers,” says Roper.

One example of something NPPC challenged is EPA’s intention to apply the rules to all surface water.   The protections of the Clean Water Act apply to navigable waters, which means streams, lakes, wetlands, and other defined waters that are navigable or are connected to navigable waters – not puddles, isolated ponds, or other features that might be deemed surface water. 

Another area of concern involves crop failure. This means if you have some sort of crop disaster, and don’t end up planting the acres of corn designated in your nutrient-management plan, it can be construed as not complying with your permit.  “This shows a lack of understanding on EPA’s part. The farm/crop needs to be treated as a separate entity because there are a lot of variables we don’t have control over, like the climate and markets,” says Roper.

Both activist groups and several agricultural groups, including NPPC, have filed lawsuits against EPA challenging the final CAFO rule.

Along with the agricultural areas, Parry outlined a few of the potential environmental issues that will probably be challenged in the lawsuits. These include: 

  • General, not specific permits for CAFOs. There’s no potential-to-discharge determination for applicants.
  • No groundwater controls.
  • Lagoons are still allowed.
  • Lack of certification/evaluation for nutrient-manage-ment plans.

According to Parry, all of the lawsuits are being combined in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York City. The petitioners’ briefs were due in late October and she anticipates that oral arguments will occur this summer. Keep in mind, these lawsuits don’t affect the implementation of the rules.

All states must adopt at least the EPA’s minimum guidelines, but they can enact stiffer regulations to meet state and local issues.

This may be the case with the increased emphasis on phosphorus. More of you may have to account for phosphorus in your NMP’s, but EPA will let the states regulate phosphorus, which means some states may have tougher rules than others.

Because the CAFO rules are still fairly new, it will take some time to hash out the details of all the regulations, especially the phosphorus and recordkeeping requirements.

It would be wise to check with your state permitting authority to find out if and how your state plans to regulate phosphorus. (See Page 21 to learn more about phosphorus issues in the pork industry.)

The CAFO rules may seem complicated, but you don’t have to know every intricate detail. Just take time to learn where you fit in and which points are vital to your business. Doing so will make it easier to comply.

To Learn More

For more information, about the Environmental Protection Agency’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation rules, check out these Web sites:

  EPA Releases Producer Compliance Guide

The Environmental Protection Agency has released its Producers’ Compliance Guide for CAFOs, describing EPA’s regulations for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

The guide includes sections that describe the CAFO regulations, which operations they affect, what they require and what assistance is available. If you own or operate a CAFO, you can use this guide to figure out what you need to do to comply with the federal regulations.

You can download the producers’ guide at: http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/afo/compliance.cfm