Allow the use of fertilizer and manure when using reasonable and scientifically backed Best Management Practices that have been used for years by dairy farmers across the US and the planet to prevent nutrients from getting in surface water. The goal is to keep the nutrients and pathogens out of the water! Let us figure out how to perform and accomplish that goal. These are example alternatives to a static 100-foot “no-application setback” including:
- Seasonally variable buffers (i.e., 200-300 foot setbacks during wetter months, 5-10-20 foot setbacks when precision application methods used or alongside dry watercourses and or during dry season).
- Precision application, such as injection of liquid or precision applied liquids or solids.
- Incorporation of manure or application to roughened soil conditions or harvestable grass buffers (i.e., setbacks bigger if bare soils or steeper slopes; smaller if low/ no slope fields or with significant crop or stubble cover.)
- Dikes, berms or roads separate field from waterbody. (Water can’t run up hill!)
- Use of technology like Application Risk Management program to better ensure applications are done during correct weather conditions to prevent runoff.
Soil testing should mirror current testing requirements and recommendations used by WSDA, recommendations by NRCS (590), land grant universities, conservation districts. Annual spring tests on every field is duplicative of much of the information in the fall tests (P, K, Ph, organic matter) levels do not usually change much, and eastern Washington N levels will not vary much fall to spring.) Allow continued use of the NRCS 590 standard used in the nutrient management inspections. The standard is working!
Replace the requirement for a professional engineer evaluation of lagoons with WSDA/NRCS lagoon risk assessment. Lagoons scoring high on the risk assessment need corrective actions to lower or eliminate risk.
Seasonal application windows. Allow the successful BMPs that have been incorporated in farm plans for the past 20 years, including the use of Application Risk Management. Allow for use of the winter period application guideline (NRCS Agronomy Tech Note 14). Use T-sum 200 as a beginning guidepost for start of season applications rather than the vague term “spring green up.” The “no application to bare soil unless within 30 days of planting” is arbitrary, without scientific basis. Field applications should occur when weather and soil conditions are appropriate and science shows risk to water quality is minimal or zero. (See seasonal variable buffers and other BMP science documents available at wastatedairy.com.)
The uncertain regulatory interpretations, unknown capital and annual cost burdens of permit compliance imposed on virtually all dairy farms for little to no reason is illogical and indefensible. If a lagoon is deemed high risk (by a risk assessment process that already exists) then help the farmer get it fixed or replaced. (NRCS, WSDA and conservation districts have been doing that for years.) Otherwise, where is the big problem that demands new, extraneous, worrisome, financially overwhelming regulations? Add to this the judgments, edicts and interpretations of a few staff at a new agency – Ecology – with their added set of terms, standards and conditions. Why?
The dairy farmers of this state have followed the guidance of WSDA, WSU, OSU, the Conservation Commission, private agronomists, planners and engineers. The dairy farms have built, maintained and managed their farm plans to achieve more protection for water quality than most any other sector of our society. Yet Ecology finds these existing programs, practices and procedures not good enough! This permit, under these conditions, is an answer in search of a problem. Yes, there are producers who will need or want this permit. For them, the changes above will help make it possible to implement a permit and still survive. For the rest of the farms, the permit should and must remain optional. Barring significant changes, this permit is an impossible option.