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Missouri Hog Factories Allowed
to Spread Too Much Waste

State issues permits based on faulty data
from University Extension

by Paul Sturtz
Columbia, Missouri

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources admitted this week that permits given to hog factories have allowed excessive amounts of manure to be applied on pasture and crop land. Because the agency based waste-disposal permits on faulty information provided by the University of Missouri Extension Service, too much manure is being spread in many areas because the state underestimated the amount of nitrogen in the waste.

In some areas, about twice as much manure is being spread on the ground as the agency intended, Ed Knight, director of DNR's Water Pollution Control Program, told the Columbia Daily Tribune on February 9. Excess nitrogen in the form of ammonia or nitrates can pollute drinking water, promote the growth of damaging amounts of algae and kill fish and invertebrates that live in waterways.

The Missouri Rural Crisis Center's ag policy task force, which is comprised of 14 community groups in the state opposed to hog factories, expressed grave concern that by overapplying two to three times more manure than can be used by plants, hog corporations have endangered waterways.

MRCC's task force called on the DNR to re-open all operating permits given to hog CAFOs in the state. "All impacted communities should be publicly notified and public hearings scheduled by the Clean Water Commission. The state cannot tolerate our drinking water or waterways being endangered,'' said Roger Allison, executive director of MRCC.

The task force also said new revelations mandate the need for Class 1 hog operations to construct berms around waste application fields and install monitoring wells to ensure that there is no runoff from spreading fields.

Knight told the Tribune the problem with nitrogen loss calculations is rooted in the initial guidelines state regulators drew up for safe disposal of the animal waste. DNR permits are supposed to ensure that the nitrogen level in manure spread on the land is low enough so that most of it is used by plants rather than running off into streams and lakes, DNR guidelines, however, were based on data gathered by UM extension engineers in the 1970s, which led the agency to tell producers that about 90 percent of the nitrogen would be lost to the atmosphere in a process similar to evaporation.

But when on-site sampling of the lagoons was required by state law last year, Knight said, the actual rates of nitrogen loss were much less than anticipated, between 66 percent and 85 percent.

``We have been underestimating the nitrogen in the lagoons, which means we've been underestimating the amount of land needed to uptake the nitrogen,'' Knight said. The old data didn't account for the corporate lagoons being deeper and having less surface area exposed to the air, which results in less nitrogen loss from the manure. `We have not laid out our strategy'' to solve the problem, Knight told the Tribune.

MRCC's task force appealed to the Missouri Attorney General to launch an independent investigation of the University's Extension Service to determine whether the University committed intentional wrongdoing by supplying faulty data to the DNR. This information was used to determine how much manure hog corporations could spread on land. The University was awarded $85,000 in 1995 to develop swine manure management guidesheets yet used nearly 20-year old data that was contradicted by other universities around the country including Purdue University. Furthermore, on-site testing showed their numbers to be way off the map.

"We have relied on the DNR and trusted these self-described University experts. We've been repeatedly told that this Missouri system was on the cutting edge. Now we're wallowing knee-deep in hog manure. This looks grossly incompetent at best or an example of blatant corruption,'' said Steve Smith of Concerned Citizens for Pettis County, a MRCC task force group. University of Nebraska agricultural engineer Dennis Schulte says: "Missouri made a strategic decision to support industrial agriculture and I'm afraid they've lost their objectivity.''

The task force called on the DNR to terminate its contract with University Extension which is scheduled to run out in July. By citing the University for fraudulent cause, the DNR can demand a default of all remaining contract monies. MRCC's task force asks that an unbiased, independent environmental engineering firm be hired to develop manure management guidelines which are in keeping with the federal Clean Water Act.

Small towns of a few hundred people are regularly required to finance sewage treatment plants to take care of human waste. Yet factory farms with two million hogs (producing five times the waste of Kansas City or 5.5 times the waste of St. Louis) in the case of Premium Standard Farms (PSF) are allowed to over-apply manure on their land and endanger waterways. PSF is applying to the DNR to build 13.5 miles of pipeline to transport hog manure from one of its sites to distant cornfields. But it has repeatedly shown that it cannot safely handle its waste with far-less ambitious plans.

"Companies like PSF have been granted no-discharge permits but by over-applying, manure has been running off into Missouri's waterways. In light of this new information, we must not rubber-stamp these preposterous expansion plans,'' said Margot McMillen, a MRCC task force member.

A state-trained volunteer stream monitor in northern Missouri said he has detected some cases of increased nitrogen near corporate farms.

``Our volunteer monitors have consistently found elevated and damaging levels of ammonia and nitrates in the region's waterways,'' said Scott Dye, co-captain of Missouri Stream Team No. 714 in northern Missouri. ``There is no doubt that the overapplication is degrading state waters.''

Dye, an MRCC member, pointed to stream monitoring from May through September near some of PSF's facilities. Of 82 tests performed at 22 sites, Dye said, 17 violated state water quality standards for ammonia or nitrates.

Published in In Motion Magazine - February 28, 1997