A strong livestock industry is essential to Nebraska’s economic stability, to the prosperity of rural communities, and to the sustainability of a reliable and safe public food supply. Farmers and ranchers are the primary stewards of our natural resources, and have played an essential role in past efforts to improve water quality.
The purpose of this project is to implement appropriate technologies for reducing the environmental impact of small livestock operations. New regulations in 1998 (LB1209) called for all livestock operations to comply with the zero-discharge requirement of waste control facilities. New changes to the federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFO’s in 2003 prompted changes in how small operations could be included in the regulatory program. Essentially small operations, less than 300 AU or head of cattle are exempt unless they have a direct connection to surface water or are designated by a regulatory authority as needing to be included in the regulatory program (designated a small CAFO). These changes have increased the demand for assistance from small producers who are trying to avoid being pulled into a regulatory program. Title 130, Livestock Waste Control Regulations Chapter 1, paragraph 043, states “Small concentrated animal feeding operation” means an animal feeding operation that is designated (by the NDEQ Director) as a concentrated animal feeding operation and is not a medium concentrated animal feeding operation. As a general rule, even with the recent change resulting from LB 916 (2004), operations with less than 300 AU’s are exempt operations and do not have to apply for permits or control structures unless they have an observed discharge into waters of the state. Almost all livestock operations have the potential to adversely affect water quality; however, until a discharge is observed and reported by personnel, these facilities do not have to comply. The objective of this project is to provide incentives so that small livestock operators can take a pro-active approach to livestock waste treatment while demonstrating appropriate treatment technologies and Best Management Practices (BMP’s). Only operations that are exempted by regulations or are deemed exempt by NDEQ are allowed to apply for this project.
Approximately 450,000 agricultural operations nationwide confine animals. USDA data indicates that the vast majority of farms with livestock are small. About 85% of these farms have fewer than 250 AU’s (1992 Agricultural Census). here are an estimated 18,000 concentrated livestock operations in Nebraska. Since operations under 300 AU’s are generally exempt from mandatory regulation, providing assistance to these producers is an important step in making the livestock industry more environmentally and economically sound.
Since 2000, over 200 livestock operations have been visited in Nebraska by project staff as candidates for this project. At least 60 individual designs or plans have been developed since then. Only about half actually continue on to apply for assistance, some do the project on their own using the designs developed by project staff and other’s decide for other reasons not to continue using the facility or exit the industry. Cost data is not available from producers who opt to do projects on their own.
By the end of this year the current project will have provided cost share assistance for over 7,600 AU, at a cost of $186/AU. The NETF contribution of the total cost is $99/AU, which provides a net return to the environment of 86%. Currently the value of all projects installed is nearly $765,000 (NETF contribution of $279,408).
Alternative Technologies Developed or Being Further Developed:
Several technologies have been developed since the project conception in 2000. Additional technologies continue to be developed and the cost of these technologies to design and install are being made more economical. For example, a pump station developed for a project in 2002 cost $7,400 while a pump station performing a similar function installed in 2005 cost $2,975. Below are the mainstream projects that have typically been funded under the current project, the only restriction placed on applicants is that it must be a new or alternative technology or practice not currently used or cost shared for in Nebraska and have a demonstrable aspect. Several new practices have been proposed to the oversight committee that were initiated by producers. One of the demonstration projects was featured on national television in 2003.
Vegetative Systems for Open Lot Runoff:
Several technologies have been developed to minimize the impact of dirty contaminated runoff from open lots (feedlots) that prevent manure and runoff from leaving the facility. The traditional system is a holding pond and spray field system. Vegetative Systems utilize vegetation to treat the nutrients from lot runoff and prevent or limit the runoff from reaching surface water. Examples of vegetative systems include Constructed Wetland, Infiltration Basins, Terrace Systems, Tree Treatment Area, Sprinkler Filters (Treatment Area), and Vegetative Filters (moderately sloped). Vegetative Filters can be Furrow Treatment Areas or Border Treatment Areas.
However, the project has installed several vegetative systems and the first dual vegetative treatment systems in Nebraska. The simplicity and low maintenance of the systems are ideal for the smaller producer. Additionally, the first “sprinkler filter” or vegetative treatment area that utilizes golf course irrigation technology to distribute the collected runoff to the treatment area was installed in 2005. A novel underground drained infiltration basin has been developed for another producer in eastern Nebraska, and will be the second system in the United States to be installed in late 2005. The project has built the first “filter fence” system for very small lots that uses recycled plastic as pickets to filter the solids from the runoff before being distributed to a VTA. These are only a short list of examples where innovation has been used to develop practical and economical solutions to livestock waste. One of the demonstrations is located at a community college; the project will be used as a teaching tool for how to operate these types of systems. This is another example of how the project takes advantage of opportunities to further promote practices.
Low Water Stream Crossings (LWSC’s):
There are 58 watersheds in Nebraska that are impaired with pathogens and will need TMDL’s. For these watersheds, few tools exist in the toolbox for livestock producers. Cattle and wildlife must cross streams in pastures. These natural crossings can degrade stream banks in many locations along a stream. A Low Water Stream Crossing (LWSC) can provide a stable and easy place for cattle to cross the stream instead of the many paths cattle typically use. It also limits where and how long they spend crossing the stream. Producers, project personnel, and third parties have observed cattle using the crossing. The goal of a low water stream crossing is two fold, limiting access and minimizing impact to the stream, and stream bank stabilization. From stream sampling data and GPS collars on cattle, the crossings appear to be performing as designed. LWSC’s may be a valuable tool in the toolbox for local producers to be proactive in the TMDL process.
Decommissioning of Lagoons and Pond Renovation:
There appears to be a large number of lagoons either approaching or at the end of their design life. Additionally, many producers have exited the industry in recent years. As a result there are many neglected lagoons. Liquid and sludge are removed and land applied at agronomic rates. The area where the lagoon was constructed is mounded to prevent leaching of nutrients. There is a strong need in Nebraska to remove these structures from service in order to prevent contamination of groundwater. The first conversion of a lagoon to a fresh water pond was done in 2004. Another first involved the development of a of lagoon sludge marketing plan to sell the nutrients to neighbors. Because of the technical assistance the cost to decommission this structure was offset by proceeds from the sale of sludge nutrients.
Figure 1. Locations of Installed Demonstration Projects
Project Operation and Objectives:
1. Showcase use of alternatives practices, inform producer audience, and train technical consultants to minimize environmental risk for small livestock producers.
A statewide bus tour will be conducted 2008, with smaller regional or group tours in 2006 and 2007. A booklet describing each project will be printed and posted on the projects web site. Signs, such as the one shown in Figure 2, showing the installed practices are posted at every site. A small farms publication on the application of vegetative systems for small farms will be developed. A Nebguide on LWSC’s and a circular on the proper way to abandon a lagoon are already developed. Design tools and a technical manual will be developed to transfer the lessons learned and “how to’s” of VTA design. Producer meetings will be held annually to increase awareness of the project activities and their application to individual producers.
Figure 2. On-Site Signs and Tours of Demonstration Farms
2. Demonstrate the use of alternative technologies for small producers by cost sharing new practices on working farms. Apply practices in an adequate volume, diversity, and locale to ensure acceptance as a mainstream practice.
The cost share incentives help offset the construction expenses of installing these new technologies. The expenses for a waste control system are excavation, grading, grass seeding, soil and manure sample analysis, sludge application, and technical consultant fees. Experience with the project has shown that 22%-89% cost share rates are typical with an average of 57%. Producers tend to be cash poor, but able to contribute in-kind manual labor, machinery, fencing, finish work, and planning as their contribution to projects. Since the project can contribute cash for other necessary expenses (excavation, pipe installation, pumps, etc.) producers can afford to install the systems. Since the producer helped to install or carry out the project, they have a stake in making sure the system works. Project personnel provide oversight so that projects are installed and carried out according to the plan and specifications developed.
In order for the project to be successful an adequate number of operations across the state must be proven to work after several years of operation and for most of the different types of facilities and locations. Additionally the cost of practices are decreasing as more contractors are educated on the installation, more engineers and technical consultants are instructed on the design and application of these systems and producers are made aware of their options. More demonstration sites across the state are needed to promote these practices and encourage acceptance as mainstream solutions.
3. Development new technologies in livestock waste control for small livestock farms.
The project has developed many different systems for small livestock producers and comprises the majority of the workload for the coordinators. The Vegetative Treatment Area designs have been adapted to different feedlot layouts by using pumps and distribution systems. The Vegetative Treatment Area is an area that is sized for proper application of runoff water from open lot feedlots to a perennial crop, such as grass or alfalfa. The VTA design has much potential for small and medium AFO’s to treat the waste water from a feedlot and help protect the water quality in the area. In the next phase the project coordinators will expand the use of VTA as an area of waste utilization to more feedlots. Nebraska’s diverse topography, soils, and types of producers do not make livestock waste design a prescription. Each feedlot has different challenges and each feedlot needs different solutions. In the next phase the project will address the more challenging open lot VTA design by using pumping systems with mobile sprinkler systems (side rolls and tow lines). These systems can work in many different situations such as sandy soils, high water table, rolling hills, application areas further away from the feedlots, and in warm or cold temperatures. The project will also adapt more options for calving facilities. Some calving facilities are also small AFO’s and need some waste control for the lots with engineered structures and changes in management practices. The next phase will continue to build on the previous practices and refine the installation and management.
Livestock Producer Application Process:
The purpose of the project is to promote and encourage the use of alternative technologies for minimizing the impact livestock have to the environment. The LPEAP approach is to provide livestock producers with a program that provides funds for good stewardship activities. For those producers who want to practice good stewardship, this program provides a simple, straightforward, timely means to obtain assistance. The application for assistance fits on one sheet of paper. The application requires an exemption letter, a budget (including contractor bids), and construction drawings or a sketch of the practice. For construction projects detailed engineering drawings will be developed for the contractors in the planning phase. The application process that a producer would follow is shown below in Figure 3
Figure 2 Producer Application Process
Criteria for Cost/Share Funding Distribution:
Cost share funding is appropriated, at the discretion of the oversight committee between 50% and 60%. The oversight committee will make the decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Funding allocations will be at the discretion of the oversight committee and will be on a case-by-case basis. Operations will be selected based on the following criteria:
→ Operation must be under 300 AU’s or exempt from the livestock waste permit program.
→ Potential to pollute surface or ground water connected to minimizing environmental risk.
→ Financial need (Producers that show, without the funding, they could not afford to install a system, will be given priority).
→ Other cost share ineligibility. Priority will be given to operations that are not eligible for other cost share funds.
→ Type of system to be used (sedimentation system, constructed wetland, vegetative filter strips, etc.)
It is desirable to have a representation of all project types (i.e. not too many crossings and not enough VTA’s). Creative projects will be given special attention during the selection process.
→ Geographic region (priority will be given so that all regions of the state are served, more emphasis on western NE).
→ Project cost per animal unit (AU). Projects with a lower cost per animal served are also used in the decision making process. In addition, the effectiveness of the practice is account for in this determination.
Organization and Partner Involvement:
Day to day activities will be directed by the project coordinators (UN-CE). They are responsible for collecting applications, promoting the project, assembling the budgets, and develop the engineering and management plans. The partners associated with the project help promote the project and the alternative technologies. Commodity groups promote the program, through their newsletters and publications. Interested producers can download applications and necessary information on the project.
Role of Oversight Committee:
The oversight committee will direct the cost share program. They review the applications for cost share assistance and oversee the project. This committee evaluates the progress of the project and generate the annual reports to the Environmental Trust Fund (ETF). This arrangement has proven successful early in the project and allows for unbiased decisions regarding who receives funding. It also allows the partners in the project to participate and become familiar with all of the projects. A producer will submit a cost share application to the oversight committee. If the application is approved, the funds will be available to the producer upon completed construction or implementation of the management practice. UNL CE is responsible for administering the cost share funds. The oversight committee will consist of livestock waste and industry experts.
Project Impact and Outreach:
A fact sheet summary on each demonstration site will be developed for each project. Project summaries are distributed at meetings, tours, and on the Internet. A small farm practices publication will be developed. This publication will be widely distributed across the state by Extension offices, commodity groups, and by NRD offices. In addition to promoting this project they will promote the Nebraska Environmental Trust Fund.
Meetings will be held to make producers and technical consultants aware of the practices. These meetings will help enhance other livestock waste initiatives aimed at reducing runoff from land application and nutrient management planning. This audience will include Extension Educators, NRD representatives, NDEQ inspectors, private consultants, NRCS personnel, commodity representatives, and livestock producers. Technical workshops will also be conducted to explain the science, engineering, and construction techniques to private consultants, NRCS and DEQ engineers, and general contractors.
A goal of $1.6 M in projects is anticipated by 2008. Currently the environment has benefited by the treatment and utilization of waste from just over 7,600 AU’s. It is expected that that amount will be benefited in the next three years bringing the total to 15,000 AU. This would equate to 10,714 head of dairy cattle, 37,500 head of pigs, 15,000 head of slaughter steers, or 15 million chickens. To put this into human perspective, it would equate to 75,000 humans or roughly the population of Grand Island (42,000), Columbus (20,000), and Scottsbluff (14,000) combined.
The cost share program will facilitate the construction, implementation, and demonstration of over 1.6 million dollars worth of facilities and new Best Management Practices in Nebraska over the course of the project. These will be livestock waste control facilities and devices that would not have existed without assistance from the Environmental Trust Fund. Continuation of this project will ensure that these practices become mainstream.