Mapping Out a Plan for Manure

3/9/2013 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer

Farmers Come Prepared to Comply With the Law

LEOLA, Pa. — Armed with field maps and soil tests from his 150-acre farm in Manheim, Dwight Lehman stepped into Daniel’s Farm Store in Leola on Tuesday, ready to learn about documenting manure management on his farm.

“I’m learning. My dad usually takes care of this. He wanted me to come and learn it, so I’m slowly learning,” Lehman said.

By the end of the all-day meeting, he had a completed manure management plan for his farm, something he lacked before the meeting but by law is required to have since he applies manure from his dairy cows to fertilize his land.

In fact, many farmers in Lancaster County and beyond are in Lehman’s position — unaware they need a manure-management plan, even if they have just a few animals on pasture.

About 20 farmers joined Lehman for the workshop, the third put on by the Lancaster County Conservation District in two weeks and one of many held throughout the state this winter.

Several district technicians were on hand helping the farmers, many of them Plain Sect, fill out their plans, which describe everything from where and when manure is applied to how manure is stored.

Plans must include maps of the farms to delineate fields where manure is applied and to identify drinking water sources as well as lakes, streams and other “sensitive areas” that could be affected by manure.

Most of the farmers had maps provided to them free of charge by the conservation district.

This is the second time the Lancaster County district has put on a series of workshops to educate farmers on getting a manure management plan.

Jeff Hall, the district’s ag program manager, said this year’s meetings have had better attendance than similar meetings in 2012. Previous ones this year were in Manor Township and Fivepointville, and a fourth was held later last week in Elizabethtown.

“Last year was more of the outreach year, telling people these sessions were available and manure management plans had to completed. This year, people are coming with stuff that they need, whether they have soil tests or they have maps already. They’re coming a little more prepared,” Hall said. “It seems like everybody is leaving with a fairly complete plan.”

The effort to get farmers to complete manure-management plans has ramped up in the past three years, since the Chesapeake Bay total maximum daily load pollution restriction was finalized in 2010.

The TMDL requires states and municipalities within the 64,000-square-mile Chesapeake Bay watershed to put in pollution controls by 2025 to reduce the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment flowing into the tributaries that feed the bay.

Pennsylvania has focused part of its efforts on ensuring that farmers complete the conservation and manure-management plans required by state law, to at least prove the state is holding farmers accountable for controling nutrients on their land.

It’s been an issue in Lancaster County, which has been classified as a nutrient hot spot by the Environmental Protection Agency because of its large number of dairy and livestock farms near rivers and streams.

EPA has inspected dozens of farms in the southern part of the county, incl uding in 2009, when the agency found that 85 percent of 24 mostly Plain Sect farms in the Watson Run area did not have the state-mandated plans.

Don McNutt, executive director of the Lancaster County Conservation District, said district technicians are required to take part in outreach activities as part of the district’s nutrient-management delegation agreement with the State Conservation Commission.

Each of the county’s five ag technicians must talk to at least 100 farmers a year on ag compliance.

McNutt said the district has received funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to pay for Plain Sect outreach throughout the county, although he didn’t specify how much.

The district has set a goal of getting all farmers in the county to have at least a written conservation plan by 2015.

The amount of detail a farmer is expected to provide in these plans had many at Tuesday’s workshop questioning how to document certain activities.

“I think there is a lot of gray areas, as far as runoff from barnyards and so on,” said James Oberholtzer, a dairy farmer from Leola. “What do you do? Totally shut down everything?”

Kevin Supplee, a farmer from Peach Bottom who owns 67 acres, rents another 100 acres and has 55 dairy cows, said he just wants proof he’s doing what’s required of him.

“It’s good to be ahead, I do think that,” Supplee said. “You need to do it. It’s just good to have good records.”

Hall said most of the questions he’s received from farmers involve drinking water sources and how to document the potential impact from manure application.

“Guys don’t really think about how easy it is to pollute a well, even taking into account their neighbor’s well,” he said.

But the fact that farmers are asking questions of what to document, he said, is progress in itself.

“It seems to be not so much of an educational, here’s what you need.’ It’s more of an education of here’s the plan, let’s work through it,’ ” Hall said. “It is the law to have one. There is always potential for inspection. I think the main focus is the educational outreach to get people to understand it and get a final plan.”

Communicating this to the county’s extensive Plain Sect community is still a work in progress, according to Dennis Eby, Plain Sect outreach coordinator for the district.

“The response has been fairly slow. This winter, I had the (manure-management) books available at all of the meetings I was at, and we had about 10 percent of the attendees were picking up the books,” Eby said.

“This is the best way to get our foot out in front of this,” he said. “It’s just going to take time.”

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