|By DOUG SCHMITZ
WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) last week flatly rejected a proposed rule giving sweeping discretionary authority of all state livestock operations to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) director.
“To allow one person to make a decision on whether a farmer can or cannot grow his operation is giving one position too much personal power to change or destroy a farmer’s future,” wrote IFBF President Craig Lang in a letter to IDNR Director Jeffrey Vonk.
“Decisions will no longer be made on sound science and current rules. Instead, they could be made on friends, neighbors, politics, economic status, public relations, external influences and more.”
Lang, a fifth-generation Brooklyn, Iowa dairy farmer, said he objected to the new rule because of increased frustration among fellow IFBF members with the IDNR and the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (IEPC).
The reason the IDNR was seeking the discretionary rule was the more than 200 permit applications for livestock confinements filed with the IDNR last year, which surprised the IEPC.
Under the proposed rule, Vonk would be given complete authority to reject all applications and impose additional standards on livestock confinements and open feedlots beyond state environmental regulations.
This would be especially true if livestock operations caused a reasonable amount of pollution or “posed an unacceptable burden on natural resources or the water due to concentration of confinements or associated manure application,” according to the rule. In turn, Vonk could impose additional permit conditions if deemed necessary, Lang said.
As a result, Vonk would also be able to prohibit construction of any size livestock operation, as well as impose stringent conditions for a permit and manure management plans, Lang added.
“As a farmer, I rely on predictability and consistency in rules and regulations,” Lang said. “I make long-term business decisions for my family farm based on these rules and regulations.
“If I follow all the (federal and state) rules, I should be allowed to grow my farm as I wish.”
Lang, who is also vice chairman of the Iowa Economic Development Board, said the rule is also arbitrary, vague, biased, ignores years of work and research that established current regulations – and could create an environment that’s not conducive to farming.
But so far in 2006, there have been 114 new applications for livestock facilities around Iowa, which is twice as many as what the state had at this time last year, according to IDNR Communications Bureau Chief Kevin Baskins.
“It would appear that any current regulations or expectations are holding producers back,” he said.
Baskins said what the IFBF needs to understand is that the parameters of the proposed rule are specific, narrow in focus and wouldn’t infringe on the rights of producers.
“The proposed rule does not give the director carte blanche authority to deny a facility based on ‘friends, neighbors, politics, economic status, public relations, external influences and more’ as stated by Mr. Lang,” Baskins said.
Some of these boundaries cited in the rule, Baskins said, include the topography, slope, vegetation, potential means or routes of conveyance of manure spilled or land-applied.
“This factor includes whether the manure application areas involve cropland with predominant slopes greater than 9 percent without a conservation plan approved by the local soil and water conservation district or its equivalent and whether manure for land application is hauled or otherwise transported more than 5 miles,” he said.
Another factor is whether the operation or manure application area is or would be located in a 2-year capture zone for a public water supply, Baskins added.
However, Lang said, Vonk could review the two-year capture zone for drinking water supplies and impose regulations at his discretion.
In the long run, Baskins said the real issue is whether a producer should have the power – if a poor decision is made – to impact the natural resources for the rest of the public.
“Wouldn’t the public want the IDNR to be able to act if there was a question that a public water supply could be in risk of contamination?” Baskins asked. “Mr. Lang has the luxury of representing the views of a fairly narrow constituency.
“At the IDNR, we have to balance not only the needs of livestock producers, but also concerns from the rest of the public pertaining to water quality and other potential environmental impacts from livestock and other sources,” he said.
Still, Lang said, because Iowa prides itself on its agricultural heritage, the state should pursue growth of its strength in agriculture – not seek to hinder it.
“By implementing this rule, you will undo years of rural economic development progress,” he said.
Baskins added that five public meetings have been held across the state and a public comment period on the proposed rule ended on March 10.
In addition, the Iowa Senate has passed a bill that would negate this proposal.
“If the bill is ultimately passed by the House and signed by the governor, the rule would be a moot point,” Baskins said.
This farm news was published in the March 22, 2006 issue of Farm World.