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January 17, 2012

New effort to make sure plans don't just collect dust on a shelf

MADISON -- Helping farmers maximize their nutrient management plans to benefit their bottom line and better protect lakes, rivers and groundwater are twin goals of a new effort by state water quality officials.

Department of Natural Resources animal waste specialists are conducting more on-site visits to help operators of large-scale farms better use the nutrient management plans required by their state water protection permits, according to Andrew Craig, a water resources management specialist for the Department of Natural Resources who is leading the effort.

"Developing a plan for properly managing and applying manure is a critical requirement for large farms seeking a water protection permit," he says. "Even more important is making sure that plan is put to work in the field to protect lakes, rivers and private wells."

Responding to operators' and environmentalists' concerns

DNR has made a concerted effort to have its limited water quality staff spend more time out of the office and in the field to working with farmers on nutrient management. Assuring such plans are being followed better protects Wisconsin water resources and public health and responds to the concerns DNR was hearing from both operators and environmental groups, Craig says.

"Farmers with permits asked us, 'what is the point of having a nutrient management plan if nobody from the DNR ever checks or looks at them?'" he says. "Environmental groups also want to know DNR is doing on-site compliance checks."

DNR responded by directing Craig and regional staff to increase on-site visits to evaluate manure hauling practices on fields and to determine how well farms are implementing their nutrient management plan. The farms were selected based upon factors including their prior history and compliance record, whether their permit was soon to expire; and if the farm had not been inspected in the last three to five years.

"Staff has done this type of work before, but most of the time in response to complaints. This is a more proactive, more comprehensive review," he says. "This is a technical assistance effort, not a 'gotcha' exercise."

Of the farms Craig visited this fall, for instance, two had good to excellent plans and were implementing all or nearly all plan elements; two had fair nutrient management plans and were not following some plan elements, and two had poor nutrient management plans and were not following them.

Farms received written inspection reports and dates for corrections to be made. DNR staff is following up via telephone, email and onsite visits.

Tom Bauman, who coordinates DNR's water protection permitting program for large-scale farms, hopes that information collected during the visits can help DNR document common nutrient management plan problems and work with the industry to address those problems. It's too early to tell what the problems are.

"We want these nutrient management plans to benefit both the farms and our natural resources," he says.

Some documented manure spills or discharges to waterways in recent years have been caused in part by permitted operations failing to follow their nutrient management plans. They spread manure too close to waterways, applied it at the wrong time to water-saturated fields, or applied it in the wrong amount or rate, Bauman says.

Wisconsin has 233 permitted farms required to have nutrient management plans but DNR water protection officials recommend farms of all sizes follow such plans. "We believe that implementing nutrient management plans can maximize the value farmers get from manure while protecting the environment," Bauman says.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Andrew Craig (608) 267-7695; Tom Bauman (608) 266-9993

Last Revised: Tuesday, January 17, 2012

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