Karl Czymmek and Curt Gooch of Cornell Universityâ€™s Pro-Dairy program have dug deep into the dairy farm implications of U.S. EPAâ€™s Air Quality Compliance Agreement. At a recent dairy producer meeting in Barton, Vt., they raised some key issues that most producers may not be aware of. Here are some of those points:
Regulation will happen
EPA has stated they will regulate emissions from animal agricultural operations, including dairy farms. And, they will develop the tools to estimate emissions on dairy farms with or without the support of the dairy industry.
We donâ€™t really know what a dairy farm emits into the atmosphere. Thatâ€™s why EPA was receptive to an Air Quality Compliance Agreement when approached by representatives of animal agriculture.
Itâ€™s a money matter
Some combination of individual producers or corporate groups must need to raise at least $1.5 to $2 million dollars to pay for a monitoring study to develop needed emission rates and look-up tables. If the industry chooses to fund this on a farm by farm basis, itâ€™ll take at least 600 to 800 dairy farms at $2,500 apiece to sign the compliance agreement.
That would only be enough dollars to monitor only three to four farms nationally. The data gathered from them will be used to prepare look-up tables that all dairies will use to determine compliance requirements in a few years.
The swine and egg industries have pro-actively stepped up to the plate and committed significantly more dollars to support emissions research than what EPA had originally suggested. The swine industry has committed 10 million dollars (thanks to check-off funds). The egg industry has committed 3 million dollars.
If the dairy industry doesnâ€™t raise enough funds through participating farms or by donations, EPA will use whatever limited data is available to develop the tools to estimate air emissions from dairy farms. The new tools will be the standard that EPA and producers will use to assess air emissions and also how to comply with existing federal laws.
Gooch says EPA doesnâ€™t enjoy conducting lawsuits on farms. They want the dairy industry to be a major player in establishing the monitoring tools, to prevent lawsuits, and keep farms in compliance.
Environmental groups have been a major driving force in putting the pressure on EPA to enforce the air quality regulations. For example, the Sierra Club sued a farm that produces broilers for Tyson and part of the settlement agreement included a $400,000 monitoring project! In the Tyson case as well as others, the lack of sound air emissions data has clearly not helped the farms. Now dairies in Idaho, Washington and Michigan are being sued for violation of clean air laws.
Two related puzzle pieces
CERCLA: Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, and EPCRA: Emergency Planning Community Right to know Act require reporting by a farm that emits more than 100 pounds of contaminants into the air within a 24-hour period annually. Several sources of information suggest that many dairies exceed that threshhold for ammonia.
At this time, it doesnâ€™t appear that emissions from field spreading require reporting. Reportable emissions are at the barn and manure storage areas. But once found in violation, you can be liable for emissions up to five years in the past as well. This is where the Agreement may help protect you: It covers for possible past, present and limited future emissions while the studies are conducted.
The â€œpenaltyâ€ payment, as described under the agreement, is not an admission of guilt, wrong-doing or mismanagement. Itâ€™s part of the deal negotiated by animal agricultural representatives to provide extra legal protection.
Leonard is an Extension dairy herd management specialist at University of Vermont.
Check out still other perspectives in the Profit Planners column on page 26 of the upcoming June issue of American Agriculturist.