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MPCA works to get feedlots in compliance

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

Minnesota's feedlot rules aren't in the news much anymore, save for when they're blamed for hurting the livestock industry or when they're criticized as lacking in enforcement.

Behind the scenes, Minnesota Pollution Control Agency staff and county feedlot officers have been working to bring farmers into compliance since the state adopted a comprehensive feedlot rule update in 2000.

The Minnesota Family Farm Law Project sponsored two meetings last week to educate farmers about the rules and their options, particularly the Open Lot Agreement.

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Farmers with fewer than 300 animal units have until October 2005 to sign up for the Open Lot Agreement, said Jerome Hildebrandt of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The agreement buys a producer time to make fixes, Hildebrandt said. A producer who signs up has until October 2010 to complete all improvements. Low-cost fixes must be made by October 2005.

Low-cost fixes may include clean water diversions, gutters and vegetative buffers or a combination of other measures to cut pollution in half, he said.

The objective is to keep water clean and to keep manure at home where it can be managed, Hildebrandt said. Manure is a valuable crop nutrient, not a waste product, he added.

Signing an Open Lot Agreement doesn't mean a producer has to spend more money to make upgrades. It doesn't mean a manure storage basin has to be installed.

"Put in what's needed," Hildebrandt said. "It's no good to spend extra dollars if we don't need to."

The state can't require producers with 100 animal units or less to make improvements unless 75 percent cost-share is available. The exception would be in the case of human health risk, as determined by the county health department.

The state can require producers with 100 to 300 animal units to spend $3,000 and producers with 300 to 499 animal units to spend $10,000 if they are continually rejected for 75 percent cost share. There is no spending limit on farms with more than 500 animal units.

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An animal unit is equal to one 1,000 pound animal.

In Goodhue County, where one meeting was held, an estimated 926 producers are eligible for the Open Lot Agreement, said Glen Roberson, Goodhue County Soil and Water Conservation District manager. Of those eligible, 385 have signed the agreement. There are 1,036 registered feedlots in the county.

Hildebrandt said it's to producers' advantage to keep their farm in compliance because it's getting more difficult to get a feedlot permit.

It's also to producers' advantage to sign up for the Open Lot Agreement now because a SWCD engineering backlog exists. Private engineers and technical service providers may be able to help farmers complete projects in the next year, but the two SWCD engineers who work in southeastern Minnesota's 11 counties have a two-year backlog of projects to complete.

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