My business management and herd performance have improved since implementing our Environmental Management System,” says Bundy Lane of Sarem Farms in Gates County, N.C. He has a 4,800-sow operation that produces feeder pigs on contract with Murphy-Brown.

“While designed primarily to protect the environment, an EMS applies to all aspects of a livestock operation. The basic goal is to protect the environment, but an EMS goes far beyond that,” says Lane.

Simply put, “an EMS is a tool that allows an organization to apply the proven business managemnet approach – plan, do, check and act – to environmental considerations that affect producers’ operations,” says Lesa Call, director of EMS’ for Environmental management Solutions, Des Moines, Iowa.

Lane developed the first pilot EMS in North Carolina, for which he received a $3,000 state grant. Nationwide, he was among the first 10 livestock producers to implement an EMS.

Working on his EMS plan at night off and on for 2 years, he admits the process took longer than he expected it would.

“It was good to step back and take a close look at all aspects of our hog operation. I spotted and fixed quite a few little things to improve efficiency and performance,” says Lane. “Details make the difference between producing 18 pigs per sow per year and 22.5.”

He points to water use as a specific example where the EMS project improved the operation’s efficiency. Since implementing the system Lane and his employees are paying closer attention to water used within the operation and they are taking steps to reduce waste.

A side benefit of the process is the peace of mind that all employees are familiar with the EMS plan. Because of this, Lane knows they can carry on appropriately when he is away. “Should something happen to me, it would not be devastating to the operation,” he notes.

Having more structured operating procedures has improved communication with employees. He says his 13 employees like the EMS plan because it gives each one direction for his or her job.

“In 3 or 4 weeks,” he adds, “a new employee can learn most of a job’s procedures because the steps are spelled out in the manual.” In the past, it used to take at least 6 months.

By having the manual on his computer, Lane can easily make changes as needed and print out hard copies for employees.

“Following an EMS that includes odor control improves neighbor relations,” he adds. “I firmly believe if every producer in the country had an EMS plan and followed it, the pork industry’s image with the general public would improve dramatically.”

For fellow producers who are interested in developing an EMS, Lane suggests taking a close look at the process and your operation. Recognize that it will take some time and concentration. But he adds, that the process has become more user friendly since the time that he prepared his.

Here are some questions to ask yourself before delving into an Environmental Management System for your operation.

  • Do you have the time and patience to develop it?
  • Will you follow it as much as possible and practical?
  • Are you willing to make changes in your operation?
  • Can you convince others in your operation to follow it?

“It’s our own plan and we are not required to follow it. We can do what we want with it. We could toss it out if we ever became so inclined.” Lane says he intends to continue following his EMS plan religiously. 

Finding EMS Help

A step-by-step method of creating an Environmental Management System for your swine operation is now available free on the Internet. The package includes instructions, worksheets, checklists and a fill-in-the-blanks computer template. It also provides answers to a number of "what-if" scenarios that may occur along with appropriate responses.

The tool was developed jointly by the North Carolina state environmental agency, Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Murphy-Brown. It is a management aid, covering all aspects of a hog operation – not just environmental management. The online package is designed to fit a swine farm operated by one or two people.

You can access the do-it-yourself EMS package on the North Carolina DENR’S Web site at www.p2pays.org. Click on "Hot Topics." If you have questions, call (919) 715-6500. The package also is available at these Web sites: www.smithfieldfoods.com (Murphy-Brown), and www.ncpork.org (North Carolina Pork Council).

While this tool is a starting point, there is still a lot of uncertainty in terms of what an effective EMS program needs to include on a state or national level, says Lesa Call, director of EMS’ for Environmental Management Solutions.

“Several states and private companies are working on programs for livestock. Producers should watch what’s happening in their state,” says Call. For example, Environmental Management Solutions is working with the state of Missouri on a pork-specific pilot project.

There is not yet a unified approach to EMS plans for livestock. A national project involvoing nine states will offer a report this month in Washington, D.C. The “Agricultural Environmental Management Systems” project worked specifically on dairy, beef and poultry needs. You can go to www.uwex.edu/AgEMS for more information on that project.