Saturday, May 10, 2003

More animal farms avoid regulation

Bill targets small, medium ones

By John McCarthy
The Associated Press

COLUMBUS - The farms that are growing the fastest - those just short of megafarm status - should join the biggest Ohio farms in needing permits to operate, an environmental advocate says.

A farm must have 1,000 beef cattle, 2,500 hogs or 100,000 laying hens to be classified as a concentrated animal feeding operation and be required to get a permit from the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which enforces air and water pollution laws for those farms.

New size classifications proposed for Ohio's livestock and poultry farms under a bill being considered by the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee:
700 or more dairy cows
1,000 or more veal calves or beef cattle
2,500 or more hogs
10,000 sheep
55,000 turkeys
82,000 laying hens
200-699 dairy cows
300-999 veal calves or beef cattle
750-2,499 hogs
3,000-9,999 sheep
16,500-54,900 turkeys
25,000-81,999 laying hens
That classification would change under a bill now in the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Steve Reinhard of Bucyrus, changes the rules governing megafarms to comply with new guidelines from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Livestock and poultry farms would be classified as large, medium or small, with only the large farms requiring permits. Pollution control at medium or small farms would be voluntary, but subject to inspection by soil and conservation districts.

While Ohio has about 135 megafarms, an estimated 80 farms that would be classified as medium open each year, said David Hanselmann, chief of the Soil and Water Conservation Division at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

However, neither the division nor the Ohio Department of Agriculture knows how many of those are "mini-megafarms," whose stock falls just short of the requirement for a permit. For instance, a couple in Darke County last year opened a 1,960-head hog farm that requires no permit for manure management.

"There's no permitting, so it's really hard to know how many are out there," said Susan Studer King of the Ohio Environmental Council. "The number of ones bumping against that (large farm status) is dozens."

The division would inspect a medium or small farm if a local district requests help, Hanselmann said. If ODNR could not persuade the farm operator to comply with environmental laws, the case would be turned over to the Agriculture Department, which could require a medium farm to get a permit.

"This provision would give us another one of those nudging tools. Most people don't want to be required to get permits," Hanselmann said.

A better idea would be to require the larger medium-sized farms to obtain permits, said Studer King, who also is a member of the Ohio Department of Agriculture's advisory committee on megafarm rules.

"We had proposed ... that (the Legislature) revise the size threshold to better reflect where the growth in the livestock industry is," Studer King said.

Rules are in place to govern every farm, whether they are enforced by ODA or ODNR, said Deborah Abbott, spokeswoman for ODA's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program.

"No matter how big a farm is Ohio, it must follow pollution abatement laws," Abbott said. "If ODNR would ask us to help them with technical expertise, we certainly would do so."

Reinhard said the committee likely would vote on the bill next week, setting up a vote by the full House.

The bill must become law by Aug. 1 or farmers could be required to get separate permits to operate from both the ODA and the U.S. EPA.

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