BATON ROUGE, La. – A recent meeting sponsored by the LSU AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry brought dairy farmers together to discuss their nutrient management plans and to make sure they are in compliance before EPA visits in the coming weeks.
The visits to dairy and other types of farm operations are routine, said Gary Hay, director of the LSU AgCenter School of Animal Sciences.
“We invited all of the dairy farmers in the state to this meeting because we wanted them to know what to expect,” Hay said. “But this is really not new to farmers. Just a month or two ago, we did the same thing for poultry producers before EPA visited their operations.”
These visits happen across the country, and it’s a way for the federal government to make sure dairy farmers are in compliance with the Clean Water Act of 1974, Hay said.
Louisiana is part of EPA Region 6, which is based in Dallas and also covers Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas.
“They are mainly looking for specific violations,” Hay said “These basically consist of runoff issues because you cannot have any discharge into the waters of the U.S.”
Even though EPA is primarily in charge of environmental compliance programs, they allow the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to oversee those programs, Hay said.
“DEQ did have a representative at the meeting to give the farmers an idea of what EPA would be looking at during their visits and any current updates on the law,” he said.
Most of Louisiana’s dairy farms are located in the Tangipahoa River Basin and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin, so the regulatory agency has been working with the dairy farmers for nearly 20 years to decrease runoff into those water bodies.
Carrie Castille, deputy assistant commissioner of the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, said they were contacted by EPA in the spring, alerting them that addressing nutrient issues in livestock operations was a national priority for EPA.
“Our role in this was to work ahead of the EPA to provide our farmers with information on best management practices, technical assistance and records they needed to have on hand in order to be in compliance,” she said.
In recent years it seems that the number of inspections has increased, with 15 in the poultry industry last year alone, Castille said. So the farmers have to stay prepared.
“I feel that the producers who have participated in our Master Farmer program have been given the tools they need to be in compliance,” Castille said, “Unfortunately, we are subjected to prices and a lot of other variables that sometimes don’t allow for us to do everything that is necessary. But I believe our producers are responsible and responsive to nutrient concerns.”
Brian LeBlanc, an LSU AgCenter watershed management and water quality specialist, discussed best management practices with the growers and encouraged them to join the Master Farmer program.
“I also wanted them to understand the importance of the maintenance of their lagoon systems,” LeBlanc said. “They really need to be pumped out every four to five years.”
Some farmers pump the waste from the lagoons onto pastures where it is used as fertilizer, he said.
LeBlanc advised the farmers to test the waste and the soil first, so they know what amount of nutrients they are putting out as well as know what is needed for the particular soil.
“During the mid-1990s, DEQ encouraged the dairy farmers to build new waste lagoons or to do improvements to their existing ones,” Hay said. “These visits by EPA are a follow-up to make sure that the lagoons are working properly.”
EPA is also checking on the dairies that may have gone out of business since the last visit, Hay said.
“They would want to know that the lagoons on those inactive farms have been decommissioned and cleaned out,” Hay said.
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