Proposed manure rule change worries farmers

By MaryBeth Matzek
MAA Editor

If the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources restricts manure application in certain regions of the state, farmer Rob Kiehneau is afraid his small Door County dairy will close.

Kiehneau, who milks between 60 and 70 cows and grows crop at his Egg Harbor farm, said about 75 percent of his farm rests on land with less than 2 feet of soil to bedrock. Under proposed changes to NR 151, farms with less than 2 feet of soil to bedrock would not be able to spread manure.

“We feel we do a good job with our applications. This rule change would make it hard for us to operate in our present location,” Kiehneau said during a hearing Friday on the proposed rule change at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. An estimated 30 people spoke at the hearing, which was simulcast in Madison.

The DNR announced the proposed changes to manure spreading rules in certain parts of Wisconsin to address decades-old groundwater quality issues in areas with Karst topography. Karst topography features shallow soils over heavily fractured limestone bedrock, which makes it easier for water and livestock waste from the surface and human waste from aging septic systems to enter the groundwater.

Door County – the site of Kiehneau’s farm – along with Brown, Calumet, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Kewaunee, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties would be covered under the new rules.

The proposed rule changes came out of the DNR’s Groundwater Collaboration Workgroup, which was formed when Kewaunee County appealed to the Environmental Protection Agency for help after scientists identified contamination from livestock and human waste in the county’s private wells.

“We were looking at ways to minimize risk to groundwater without banning manure spreading all together,” said Mary Anne Lowndes, runoff management section chief in the DNR’s Bureau of Watershed Management, who answered questions about the rule change for an hour before the public hearing. “This is the first-time ever the DNR has looked at targeted performance standards.”

The proposed rules would apply to all farms – both regulated and non-regulated farms – a move applauded by State Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay. In Wisconsin, only Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which is defined as farms with more than 1,000 animal units, are regulated by the DNR and must have a nutrient management plan on file.

“Large and small farms need to be looked at. The two most recent cases we had in my part of the state where people got sick due to manure ending up in drinking water were traced back to small farms, not CAFOs,” he said.

One Wisconsin small farm real estate agent said the proposed rule would have a devastating impact on small area crop farmers, who could see the value of their farmland lose at least 50 percent of its value, if not more, if these new rules were adopted.

Jodi Parins, a member of the anti-ag organization Kewaunee Cares, said the new rules did not go far enough.

“I think we should prohibit liquid manure on any soil that is less than 20 feet down to bedrock,” she said. “We shouldn’t water this (rule) down because of cost.”

Dick Swanson of Kewaunee County agreed, blasting the DNR for not going far enough with their rules.

The Dairy Business Association says it agrees with the need for added standards in the region but emphasizes that the rules must be workable.

“We want to ensure that the final product brings about lasting environmental improvements, while also being practical for farmers to implement,” DBA President Mike North said earlier in the week.

Nicole Barlass, who farms with her father and brother in Sheboygan County and also works for the DBA, said at the hearing that the proposed rules were not practical. She said the targeted rules are based on the depth of soil in farm fields with the DNR wanting to include areas up to 20 feet deep. Barlass said that was impractical and expensive for farmers, adding that the DBA and other farm groups think the depth level should be set at 5 feet.

There are few maps showing soil depth and those that do exist are 40 years old. Barlass said the state needs to have updated maps made using the latest technology.

“The proposed rule requires farmers to in-field verify soil depth in such areas prior to spreading manure. The most precise method for a farmer to verify soil depth would be to drill holes throughout a field. Littering fields with holes to bedrock could create more environmental hazards,” she said. “Farmers should only have to do in-field verification if they want to prove their soil is deeper than maps indicate.”

Steve Hoffman, an ag consultant from Manitowoc County, agreed new maps showing soil depth are needed.

“After 5 feet, you are really just guessing how deep it is down to the bedrock. We need good maps. Without the maps, just going through the testing that requires boring at several sites, which is expensive, could put some farms out of business,” he said.

Julie Kiehneau – Rob’s wife – believes farmers can successfully spread manure on shallow soil without polluting groundwater. The Kiehneau family has operated its 400-acre farm since 1957 and are diligent on manure management, she said.

“We are careful about spreading in certain weather and know how much we spread and where we spread it,” Kiehneau said. “We are all very concerned about water quality, but this rule change will put us out of business.”

The DNR will take written comments on the proposed rule change until Oct. 4 and plan to bring the issue before the DNR board in December. If they approve of the changes, it would go next to the state Legislature.