Thirty years ago more than one farm operation ignored manure as it washed off hog or cattle feedlots and proceeded near a local stream. That was bad stewardship. Many of those 'bad actors' or simply uninformed producers are no longer around. In their place are what some want to call mega-farms, even though many are still operated by family farmers.
Yet due to environmental awareness today, urban folk often scream louder today about possible problems from livestock confinement facilities than they did when real abuse, intentional or otherwise, was occurring daily three decades ago, albeit on a smaller scale.
The truth is to receive a permit today, large operations that must meet confined feeding guidelines often wind up being shining examples of good stewardship and modern handling of manure. And why not - it is a valuable product as fertilizer - especially today. Why would they want to waste it through sloppy handling?
Is there still odor? Yes, even in the best of operations, depending upon weather conditions day to day. But unless you live directly next to a large operation, odor may not be as noticeable as you might think.
A recent visit to the once-controversial Union-Go dairy near Winchester, operated by Tony Goltstein and family, proves the point about modern manure stewardship.
Goltstein uses a flush system and barn scrapers in his free-stall barns of the 1,400 cow dairy to move manure into a concrete pit. The scraper system is automated. Manure solids remain in the pit. They're later spread by Al Groth, a neighboring crop farmer who supplies feed and utilizes manure from the operation. The liquid portion flows into a lagoon. To meet state requirements issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for this particular site, the lagoon is lined with a geo-textile-type liner. It is designed to provide storage for the entire operation for a full year.
However, the goal is to pump part of the manure from the lagoon twice a year. Again Groth takes the manure to crop fields. Local soils consultants help monitor nutrient levels so that manure is placed where it will do the most good for crops, and to avoid buildup of certain key elements, such as phosphorus.
That's a long way from the days when a few farmers closed their eyes and watched manure wash off their lots.