Purdue News

March 11, 2005

Producers told to wait and see about CAFO ruling

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – There's no doubt that several Indiana livestock producers will be affected by a Feb. 28 federal appeals court ruling about regulations governing discharges from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO). Just how and when is yet to be determined.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard the case as a result of decisions in livestock-industry and environmental-group lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency and its interpretation of the Clean Water Act. Exactly what all this means for livestock producers won't be known until the EPA announces how it will apply the ruling.

Purdue experts are advising farmers who thought they were going to have to apply for a national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit because of the Clean Water Act to wait until more information is available. Producers should get their information organized but not put it on file with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said Don Jones, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering.

"I don't think anybody can take anything too seriously until the EPA has decided how it is going to handle this," he said. "There are speculations as to what could happen, but no one really knows for sure at this stage."

Jones said right now there's a great deal of confusion surrounding how EPA will interpret the ruling.

"Everybody was surprised by the timing and scope of this ruling," Jones said. "If I were a producer, I'd stay in close contact with my county Extension educator. We'll do our very best to let producers know as this progresses."

One interpretation is that up to 90 percent of Indiana farms that are designated as federal CAFOs will no longer need an NPDES permit. Only farms that have had manure discharges would be required to obtain the permit.  

"EPA hasn't said that, and Indiana Department of Environmental Management hasn't said that. I think they're still going over this ruling," Jones said. IDEM administers the federal CAFO permitting program in Indiana.

The effect on farmers who've already applied for the permit also is unknown. The ruling doesn't mention anything about them, so it's not clear if they will be required to have a permit or be able to opt out of the process.

Jones said that it's in a farmer's best interest not to have to apply for this permit because of the costs involved and because the ruling does say that operations that have a permit are required to have a public comment period.  

"Having neighbors control when manure is applied will not be popular in a lot of states," he said. This part of the ruling could affect 10 percent of Indiana farms.

Just because the rules are changing doesn't mean producers aren't regulated. Indiana has had a regulatory system for confined feeding operations (CFO), since 1971, and its regulations apply to farms even smaller than CAFOs. In Indiana, regulations apply to farms with more than 300 cattle, 600 mature swine, 600 sheep, or 30,000 fowl, including ducks.

"Indiana's regulations control how producers store manure, how they apply manure, how they match the nutrient needs of the crop," Jones said.

But the NPDES permit, which originally applied to federally declared CAFOs, is the part that's really in flux.

"We don't know how this is going to land," Jones said. "But this has really stopped things in their tracks in terms of producers going ahead with their permits. We're waiting for the EPA to make some sort of a ruling. When that happens, IDEM and the other state agencies will act."

Writer: Kay Hagen, (765) 494-6682, kjh@purdue.edu

Sources: Don Jones, (765) 494, 1178, jonesd@purdue.edu

Al Sutton, (765) 494-8012, asutton@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, forbes@purdue.edu

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