Setting the Record Straight - Hay is Not a 'Pollutant'

Response made to article about EPA claims.

Published on: Sep 22, 2011

Editor's Note: We reported a response from EPA Region 7 regarding confusion over a complaint filed against Callicrate farms – see the story HERE. What follows is Mike Callicrate's response to our report.

The article in Farm Futures, "Region 7 EPA Administrator Sets Record Straight," needs some clarification.

Author Jason Vance was mistaken in his statement, "Last year the Environmental Protection Agency inspected a feedlot in St. Francis, Kan." The first EPA inspection of Callicrate Cattle Co. occurred this year, February 2, 2011. He follows that by saying, "The inspector discussed the findings with the operator, Mike Callicrate, and prepared a notice of violation indicating changes that needed to be made." Again, not true. EPA inspector, Trevor Urban, talked with A.J. Jones, Callicrate Cattle Co. manager, not with me.

The inspector's report did not mention anything about retaining water runoff from the feed production area. We were informed through the EPA Order, and essentially simultaneously in EPA's national news release, that EPA found a violation with water runoff from the "feedstock storage area," the site where our hay is stored.

Mr. Vance quotes Karl Brooks, EPA's regional administrator, as saying, "The violation as on the basis of uncontrolled, unmanaged feedstocks that included things like distillers grain and other feeds, it did not include hay." Contrary to the statement, there were no distillers grains in outside storage at the time of the EPA inspection. Hay and a very small pile of silage were the only commodities in the "production area" not stored under roof. There was no differentiation made between hay, which was by far the major commodity in the area, or any other feed ingredient in the production and storage area by anyone from EPA.

Why does the EPA have a problem with the 25-year-old proven design authorized by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment which intentionally diverts precipitation runoff away from and around our feedstocks? KDHE has made many visits to our operation over the last 25 years offering valuable help and advice. EPA shows up for the first time, without coordinating with KDHE, and all of sudden we are bombarded with a stream of vague noncompliance issues and phone calls from news reporters. EPA could have communicated and saved us all a lot of trouble and embarrassment. But, of course, the EPA news release was already written.

Mr. Brooks wrote that, "EPA cited the Callicrate operation for failure to control harmful runoff, maintain adequate manure storage capacity, keep adequate operation records, and meet the state and federal requirements of its nutrient management plan " Mr. Brooks' statement about the failure to "maintain adequate manure storage capacity" is confusing. The EPA's order refers to "wastewater," not "manure." Unlike large industrial hog confinement operations, our cattle waste is spreadable dry manure and precipitation runoff, not liquid manure requiring storage capacity.

It is unfortunate EPA did not communicate prior to issuing the order with KDHE or Callicrate Cattle Co. about their finding that "adequate storage" for wastewater wasn't being maintained in Retention Structure #2. Then they would have known that Retention Structure #3 is adequate for storing the overflow from #2 (we converted #2 to a presettling basin) and well exceeds the total storage requirement. Perhaps the change was overlooked and should have been recorded somewhere more obvious to EPA. A simple conversation would have resolved the issue, but, what the heck, the EPA news release was already written.

So what are the "serious environmental violations" Mr. Brooks is referring to that required a national news release threatening a $37,500 per day per violation fine, defaming Callicrate Cattle Co. and A.J Jones, and sending such an ominous message to ourselves and small producers everywhere?

Perhaps it was as Mr. Brooks stated, "EPA inspectors [there was only one] also observed slaughter wastes being stored outside in an uncontrolled area." Again, had EPA made a simple phone call, they would have learned that KDHE worked with Mr. Jones in selecting a site they felt appropriate for our slaughter waste composting, but, why bother, the news release was already written.

Mr. Brooks said in his letter, "We have some indication of how other producers have perceived this fracas in a feedlot. Region 7's offer to meet with Kansas cattle producers to discuss CAFO enforcement was warmly received and we will be meeting within days… Drover/Cattle Network published an article debunking the 'hay-as-pollutant' myth."

A spokesman from the Region 7 EPA office called in response to my invitation to Mr. Brooks to attend a news conference on this issue at Callicrate Cattle Co. I was informed Mr. Brooks was unable to attend. I asked about Region 7's offer to meet with Kansas cattle producers and when the opportunity would be available. He confirmed that EPA had already met with the Kansas Livestock Association as opposed to the Kansas Cattlemen's Association which represents independent cattlemen.

After the news was published around the country, we received a call from a water engineer offering assistance. The engineer advised us that if we had been members of the Kansas Livestock Association, we most likely wouldn't have seen an EPA inspector.

So after the "fracas," it really comes down to some failures in record keeping and nutrient analysis, which my attorney quickly acknowledged and promised we would correct. It also boils down to a lack of due process, of communication between EPA, KDHE and Callicrate Cattle Co. Had anyone at EPA picked up the phone and called, the slanderous and defamatory actions against Callicrate Cattle Co. and A.J Jones could have been avoided. Had Mr. Vance with Farm Futures made a phone call to myself or A.J. Jones, he might have avoided misstating the facts.