A conversation with… Bill Knapke, Ohio Pork Council President
OCJ: First, could you outline some of the specifics of the recently passed Senate Bill 1 that pertain specifically to manure?
Bill: There are a number of parts to the bill that pertain to manure. To summarize, a person may not surface apply manure in the Western Lake Erie Basin under the following circumstances:
• On snow-covered or frozen soil;
* When the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation; or
* When the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a 50% chance of precipitation exceeding one-half inch in a 24-hour period, unless the manure is injected into the ground, incorporated within 24 hours of surface application, or applied onto a growing crop. As part of this law, there are exemptions based on operation size and for emergencies. For more information, please visit www.ohiopork.org.
OCJ: The law clearly includes more regulations for livestock producers, so why was the livestock industry as a whole so supportive of Senate Bill 1?
Bill: While I cannot speak for Ohio’s livestock industry as a whole, after the water supply situation in Toledo, new regulations were inevitable. Regardless of whether livestock producers were a significant contributor to the problem or not, becoming involved in SB1 was an opportunity to be a part of the discussion and work toward common sense stewardship solutions. Working closely with legislators, we advocated for changes that would have a positive impact on the environment and are manageable for producers. At the same time, we used this opportunity to educate legislators on modern livestock production. The end result of these discussions was a bill based upon best management practices that permitted operations have been following for years, as such we were able to support the legislation.
OCJ: Complying with this law will require some livestock producers to modify their manure handling systems or add storage. What provisions are in place to accommodate those changes? Is there any type of financial assistance available?
Bill: Some changes will be necessary for some farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin. To allow farmers to come into compliance, the legislation includes a provision allowing small and medium operations temporary exemptions. Small operations may apply for a two-year exemption, and medium operations may apply for a one-year exemption, through their local soil and water district office. Operations that do not apply, or qualify, for the exemption will still be able to comply with the law by injecting the manure, incorporating it within 24 hours, or applying it to a growing cover crop as the law allows. The law made no special provisions for financial assistance to come into compliance, but producers are still able to apply for Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding through the NRCS if additional assistance is needed.
OCJ: How does manure fit into the overall nutrient management challenge within Ohio agriculture as a whole?
Bill: Livestock manure, and more specifically pig manure, is a relatively small percentage of total nutrients applied to Ohio crop ground. Yet, the entire agricultural community had an opportunity, as part of this legislation, to lead on the issue of nutrient management. Now that agriculture has taken leadership on the issue of nutrient management, we look forward to other contributors to the challenge following our lead.
OCJ: Aside from the regulation requirements, what are some key practices livestock producers should consider moving forward?
Bill: Manure is a vital part of many farmers’ nutrient budgets, and needs to be managed and applied responsibly. This includes following best management practices, as outlined by OSU Extension, such as regular soil testing to maximize nutrient utilization by crops. Regular soil tests should be conducted to avoid over-application.
OCJ: What key messages need to be shared about the role of livestock farms in nutrient management and the broader water quality issues?
Bill: Livestock farmers are a vital part of Ohio’s Ag and rural community, and the economy. For thousands of years, farmers have recognized the value of livestock manure as a resource and have continually been improving our handling and application practices to maximize its potential. Through nutrient management plans, record keeping, and training and certification programs, as are required by facilities permitted through the Ohio Department of Agriculture, livestock farmers have been leaders in caring for the environment. Continuous improvement of best management practices is key to livestock farmers in their effort to safeguard our state’s natural resources.
OCJ: How do you see the regulatory framework on this issue evolving in the future?
Bill: We can never be 100% sure of how regulations will evolve, as often they are subject to the issues of the day. We do know that best management practices are continually evolving, as science develops, and livestock organizations will work hard to ensure regulations also evolve based on science. It would not be unreasonable for these same regulations to be taken statewide in the future and we encourage producers to abide by these best management practices, regardless of their location in Ohio.
OCJ: Can Ohio’s water quality problems be solved by agriculture alone? Why or why not?
Bill: Ohio’s water quality concerns cannot be solved by agriculture alone. While agriculture will play a role, because of the large land base, everyone will need to make changes. The research is ongoing and we have a lot to learn about water quality. Though, through these regulations, livestock agriculture has agreed to make necessary changes, we now look forward to municipalities and other point and non-point source contributors following our lead.
OCJ: What is the best thing that has been done by the livestock industry in recent years to address water quality concerns?
Bill: Ohio’s livestock industry continues to base management practices on proven science. In our effort to be better stewards of the land and improve our businesses, we have made strides in efficiencies that have been beneficial for water quality. The livestock industry has been at the forefront of understanding nutrient placement and nutrient movement in the soil from a water quality perspective, and has become more efficient in using feed and nutrients, as well as nutrient placement. In the pork industry alone, farmers have reduced their water usage by 41% and land use by 78%, while increasing the number of hogs by 29%. This dedication to continuous improvement has been tremendous for water quality.
OCJ: What is the biggest public misperception you run into with regard to manure?
Bill: There are several misconceptions farmers deal with, though some are more impactful than others. The most pressing misconception is that manure is a waste product with little to no value, and as such farmers don’t properly dispose of it. Those of us in livestock agriculture understand the value of manure and its ability to offset the costs of commercial fertilizer. As such we have been incorporating and injecting the manure directly into the soil for years because we understand the importance of keeping the nutrients in the soil. Manure nutrients when properly applied are a more stable fertilizer for crops and water quality.