Livestock producers are spreading themselves too thin when it comes to finding land for manure application. In a new study by USDA’s Economic Research Service, with fewer producers are livestock, the 350 million tons of manure produced each year is being spread over smaller tracts of land, causing more of it to wind up in lakes, streams and rivers.

The agency says the ``competition for land for spreading manure could be severe in regions with high concentrations of animals,'' making it more difficult to comply with new environmental regulations..

States expected to have the most trouble finding enough cropland to distribute the manure include North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, Alabama, Arkansas and California.

According to ERS, only 18 percent of 4,700 large pork operations and 23 percent of 1,900 large dairies are spreading manure evenly over enough acreage to meet the standards. In the United States, there are 80,000 pork operations of all sizes and a similar number of dairies.

The livestock industry argues smaller operations would be unable to meet consumer demand.

Environmental groups ``want agriculture to be back somewhere circa 1950s era,'' says Kara Flynn of the National Pork Producers Council. ``That's not going to happen because of the demand for product right now.''

The study estimates it will cost livestock and poultry operations more than $2 billion to comply with the EPA standard. Consumers also may end up seeing higher meat and milk product prices to cover the cost, the government economists wrote.

For more information about the study, go to: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/aer824/

AP, Reuters