Does Your Farm Stink? The EPA Wants to Find Out

Farmers will eventually be facing federal regulations involving air emissions produced on their farms, that may touch on everything from spreading manure, to the exhaust fan at the barn. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced its construction of the Air Quality Compliance Agreement.

According to the EPA website, its primary goals are to reduce air pollution, monitor animal feeding operation emissions, and to develop a national consensus on the methodologies for collecting and sampling emissions at the farm level. This new compliance agreement will have a bite, with the ability to levy some hefty fines. Some of the regulatory acts for which EPA will be seeking compliance are the Clean Air Act and the Right to Know Act, according to the EPA website.

A two-year planning period is being laid out, at which time volunteer feeding operations can sign up for emissions testing, at the price of $200, and allow air testing on their farms in order to set the base line standard. Ammonia is one of the biggest concerns, but many other emissions, including hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide are being tested as well. Complaints from neighbors about manure spreading and other unpleasant aromas from farm operations appears to be raising a stink, according to the Penn State website at http://nutrient.psu. edu/.

Much of the information available to the public is still undergoing transformation in wording and timeline. As with any government regulations, they tend to be very dynamic. The next two years of field testing will have significant impact on final wording. At present, the farmer-to-EPA agreement is a 41-page document, which can be viewed on the EPA website under "air quality". Stiff penalties ranging from $200 to $100,000 are presently being considered.

There was nothing we could find in our search to indicate that this agreement is limited to a particular size operation, nor that it applies only to confinement operations. It is rather open-ended, and leads one to believe that sooner or later all feed operations will be targeted for inspection. We are betting that the stinky ones are first, with the ones having complaints from city neighbors and disgruntled employees running a close second.

There are a couple hundred webpages devoted to this topic, and suggests that many sources will be inspected with regard to air quality. Any barn or structure that houses livestock, and any manure storage facility on the farm are primary targets for emissions testing with this program.

So, what does all of this mean to feeding operations in our area? Perhaps it is too early to be sure, but we're willing to stick our neck out and make some projections. First of all, operators should make themselves aware of current EPA regulations with regard to the Air Quality Compliance Agreement. One can be certain that more information is forthcoming.

No one wants to argue that clean air isn't important. It would be difficult to even argue that farms don't emit some rank odors once in awhile. For some operations, the odors may be present all year. Scientific data supports that high concentrations of certain farm emissions, and/or prolonged exposure to the same, can cause greater health risks. Pressure from surrounding communities has likely spurred these latest developments.

It will be years before the hot air of Washington wafts its way to every little feeding operation, but it will eventually come. Operators will be responsible for more testing, more paperwork, and more compliance. "Air permits" are discussed in the website as a possibility.

Operators will bear the burden of some of the costs, which are not likely to show up in increased farm revenue. With U.S. food prices being extremely stable and relatively inexpensive, the U.S. farmer has historically increased herd size in order to cash flow his/her operation. Air quality standards may reverse that trend, and in time create a reduction in overall meat and poultry supply, and perhaps help the pricing at the farm level.

But in the interim, expect more paperwork, a few seminars, and more government interest in the air emissions of your farm.

ALL of us want clean water, and clean air. This act will offer protection to those who can readily comply, and be a misery to some who cannot. For the consumer, the good news is certainly in better quality living environment for people and livestock. The bad news is that strict air quality regulations may cause the down-sizing or elimination of some herds, and on a national scale could have a negative impact on food supplies and pricing. According to the EPA, technological advances in filtering air emissions from barns and manure storages may serve as an aid to farm operations. Several prototypes are in the testing phase.

Tom Clouser is a 38 year old farmer in Pennsylvania. In addition to farming, he and his father publish a monthly 16-page newspaper called "Trees 'n' Turf", which targets subjects of interest to those in land use industries and activities. View their website at http://www.clouserfarm.net

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