Michigan livestock producers operating under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System general permit need to pay close attention to the proposed draft permit released by the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.
Laura Campbell, Michigan Farm Bureau Ag Ecology Department manager, warns the draft permit is a classic case of regulatory overreach, proposing to not only increase paperwork and bureaucratic burdens on farms but also threatening the viability of many farmers who have complied with past permits.
EGLE’s proposed revisions require additional field assessment reports and quarterly filings, even though the agency seems challenged in keeping up with the current 12-month reporting requirements.
Ironically, the release of new permits is nearly three months behind schedule. Many current permit holders who submitted the required annual reports as long as a year ago still are listed under “Pending Review” status on MiWaters' website tracking system.
One additional bit of irony is that the draft proposes an effective date of April 1, 2020. But it’s no joke, warns Campbell, noting that permit renewals already have been submitted, so farmers will have to undergo a long bureaucratic process to find out what changes EGLE will require for each permit to comply with the new requirements.
“Whether you are a permitted livestock farmer or not, EGLE’s proposed permit will hurt Michigan agriculture — from those who raise animals or crops for livestock feed, to crop farmers who use the valuable nutrients in manure to raise crops instead of commercial fertilizers,” Campbell says. “These new regulations could set a precedent to regulate other parts of the industry, and economic burdens to local communities and other farmers will be significant.”
Campbell outlined the following concerns in the current draft permit proposal:
- Use of the Michigan Phosphorus Risk Assessment (MPRA) tool would be required under the new permit for evaluating manure application rate limits to farm fields. “This tool was designed by NRCS and is not meant for regulatory use,” Campbell says. “As a result, many farms that have complied with past permits, especially those with tile-drained fields, would not have enough land base to apply manure.”
- Nitrogen application beyond Michigan State University recommendations, whether a commercial fertilizer or manure, would have to be requested in advance and posted for 15 days of public notice before approval under the new permit proposal. “That is simply too long to wait before application, and results in either potential nitrogen deficiencies and damage to crop yields or continued planting delays,” Campbell says.
- Storage structure volumes must be calculated assuming 1 foot of solids even when empty, and evaporation calculations can no longer be included. “This means all storage calculations will be intentionally wrong and will result in many farms appearing to not have enough storage to meet the six-month permit requirement,” Campbell says. “And EGLE is proposing that solid manure be restricted to 7-foot vertical stacks under roof, which further limits storage capacity and options.”
- Farms in watersheds with a Total Maximum Daily Load for phosphorus, nitrogen, E.coli, biota or dissolved oxygen will only be able to apply manure if they get a “low” score on the MPRA tool or use other extremely restrictive practices, which are very difficult to achieve. “This goes against the original intent of the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program’s protection from additional practices in TMDL watersheds,” Campbell says.
- Farms in watersheds with a TMDL for E.coli, biota or dissolved oxygen will have to develop additional pollution prevention measures such as pre-treatment of manure, additional setbacks and buffers, or severely limited application rates. “This new requirement would make it virtually impossible to apply sufficient manure to empty storage structures or apply sufficient nutrients for crop needs,” Campbell explains.
- Manure application and manifesting must be reported quarterly, increasing the paperwork burden and cost for permitted farms, and manifests must include soil tests of the recipient’s field within the past three years.
- The draft permit would require latitude and longitude of the field center in the field-by-field assessment of land application areas. “Field maps with features and addresses are already reported by permittees, so it is unclear why this is needed other than to add paperwork burden to farmers,” Campbell says.
- “Operational control” of manure still is not clarified by EGLE’s proposed permit, even when manure is manifested (provided to another farmer). “So, confusion will continue over which fields must be included in a permit holder’s Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan,” Campbell says. “EGLE staff claim if a permitted farmer applies manure on another farmer’s field, they somehow retain operational control over it, and a field they neither own nor control must be in the CNMP, which is an impossible burden for farms to comply with.”
- The permit requires soil sampling to be done by “20 or more cores in a random pattern spread evenly over each uniform field area.” “This requirement would disallow grid sampling, which is a recommended practice by NRCS, universities and the 4Rs Nutrient Stewardship program,” Campbell says.
- Manure application would be prohibited on permitted farms and manifesting from January through March despite Michigan having an accepted technical standard to minimize risk of application on frozen ground. “This means that if there is a time during January through March when manure application is suitable due to local conditions, farmers would still be unable to apply,” Campbell says.
Campbell urges farmers to take EGLE’s proposed permit seriously, warning that activists are expected to play the numbers game in trying to sway the agency's opinion and decision in drafting the final permit.
“Farmers across Michigan recognize that to be successful, there needs to be a workable system of regulating manure application to protect water quality,” Campbell says. “Michigan farmers have a proven track-record of working proactively to protect the environment, but permit requirements need to be based on realistic guidelines that will also allow farmers to remain in business while continuing good environmental stewardship.”
Campbell says that farmers can provide written comments, including the potential detrimental effect on their farm operation, and include additional information about their farm, their business and their technical knowledge of agricultural nutrient management. EGLE must receive written comments no later than Dec. 18.
Send written comments to: Megan McMahon, Permits Section, Water Resources Division, Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, P.O. Box 30458, Lansing, MI 48909; or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Campbell said farmers also are encouraged to attend and speak at one of EGLE’s three public meetings.
“We’re encouraging producers to also bring along other farmers, organization members and agriculture industry partners and ask other farmers to do the same,” she says. “Talk about your farm and the impact this permit will have on your operation.”
Here is the schedule for the three public meetings:
- 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 3, Adrian College, Adrian Room, Adrian-Tobias Center, 110 S Madison St., Adrian
- 6 to 9 p.m. Dec. 5, Grand Valley State University, LV Eberhard Center, Room 215, 301 W. Fulton St., Grand Rapids
- 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 9, Michigan Library and Historical Center, 1st Floor Forum, 702 W. Kalamazoo St., Lansing
The permit documents are available at miwaters.deq.state.mi.us.
Campbell can be reached at 517-679-5332 or email@example.com.