Every dairy must deal with manure, but that’s easier said than done. Nearly every aspect of manure management, from emissions to storage to land application, is subject to local, state and federal regulations. These regulations may include:
- Odors and air quality
- Water quality
- Manure movement
Navigating these regulations isn’t always easy. That’s why it’s important to have a team of experts who can help you prepare a manure management plan that is compliant while still makes sense for your dairy.
Common manure regulations in the U.S.
All states have their own guidelines regarding manure regulations. And while there are a few major areas that most states have in common, it is best to research each regulatory area as it applies to your state to help understand specifics for your location. The frequency of updates, keeping of records and planner qualifications will also be different for every state, as well. In some states, a nutrient management plan (NMP) must be publicly posted where it can be reviewed.
Nutrient Management Plans
An NMP identifies the management practices used at the dairy to minimize adverse impacts to surface water and groundwater from runoff and leaching from land application. This is unique to each dairy, as factors like crops, soil types, climate, local conditions, etc., are different for every operation. All land applications must be made in accordance with the NMP, and the NMP must be reviewed periodically and updated to include any changes to any of the factors listed in the previous sentence.
An NMP may also require:
- a list of potential odor sources and methods to minimize those odors
- provisions for dealing with animal mortalities
- alternative uses for excess manure
- analysis of the manure
- manure nutrient levels
- planned application rates, timing and location
- soil tests
- restrictions on where manure can and cannot be spread
In addition, some states require an emergency response plan or emergency action plan to be developed for responding to manure, wastewater and pesticide spillage, as well as fuel handling and storage and catastrophic emergencies. In some cases, emergency contact information is also required as part of the plan.
Be sure to follow your state’s guidelines for NMPs, as these can and do affect many other aspects of manure management.
The storage of manure is also subject to regulation. The regulations can include guidelines for the volume of the manure storage receptacle, including considerations for withstanding periods of heavy rainfall and runoff in addition to manure. They also consider the distance these structures are from water supplies, both public and private and including wells, streams, and other bodies of water, as well as the distance from the cows, property line, public road right-of-way and flood plain. For example, if you are located in New York and are receiving state cost-share funds, a professional engineer is required to design and certify the manure storage system.
These are just a few of the guidelines you may see when researching manure storage regulations in your state.
Land application is another aspect of manure management that is closely regulated and varies by state. Guidelines for land application of manure can include distance from wells, surface water, sinkholes, open-tile-line intake structure and areas of active snowmelt. They often require you take into account the application rates for climate, crop and type of soil, as well as how much you can saturate the soil. In some states, such as Texas, soil sampling is required.
Like NMPs and manure storage, regulations for the land application of manure vary by state, so it is important you research which guidelines you’ll need to follow.
Is anaerobic digestion in your future?
Another manure management consideration is the production of methane biogas via an anaerobic digester. Not only does this create a renewable energy source, but it can also create an additional revenue stream for your dairy.
According to the EPA, methane emissions are directly reduced by anaerobic digester systems used for manure management. In addition, when biogas is used for energy, methane emissions are indirectly reduced from avoided fossil fuel use. Anaerobic digestion systems emit less methane compared to uncovered anaerobic lagoons because the methane emissions are captured and destroyed or utilized.
However, anaerobic digesters, like other manure handlings, are subject to local, state and federal guidelines for air, solid waste and water.
The power of teamwork
Together, you and your team should be making sure to stay up to date with these local, state and federal regulations regarding manure management, which are ever-changing and evolving. Also, stay abreast of any industry changes or new technology that can affect your manure management plan. Come up with a plan that is actionable, yet flexible enough to adjust to regulation and industry updates or environmental condition changes. Taking the time to put a good plan in place and to develop relationships along the way will set your dairy up for success well into the future.