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Michigan lawmakers propose to ban winter manure spreads


LANSING, Mich. — Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB), citing hardship especially for small-scale livestock operators, is strongly opposed to legislation banning manure spreading on frozen or snow-covered ground.

Laura Campbell, manager of the MFB ecology department at Lansing, said applying manure during the winter is not an efficient use of resources, but emergencies occur when it has to be done. The state bill would not allow for it under any circumstance, she said.

Farmers forced to spread manure in fields to empty completely filled waste storage facilities during a long winter might not be able to afford the cost of increasing storage capacity.

“Winters are long here. You’re talking about at least six months of storage to make sure you’re getting through the season in which you’re going to have frozen or snow-covered ground,” Campbell said.

The bans are contained within Senate Bill 247 and House Bill 4418. These measures recently put forth by Sen. Rosemary Bayer (D-Beverly Hills) and Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) are before the Senate Environmental Quality and House Agriculture committees.

Campbell said farmers are restricted already in spreading manure on frozen or snow-covered ground to areas without a slope or close to surface water, to minimize the environmental risk from runoff. Applying manure under current restrictions is safer than manure seeping from an overfilled storage facility having contact with rain or snow depending on location, she said.

She explained winter manure spreading is also done in agronomic rates, as opposed to it being concentrated at the breach from an overfilled facility. Equipment failure can also occur at overfilled storage facilities from the pressure of the built-up material.

“From our perspective, doing it in a safe way and doing it according to the management practices is much better than risking a catastrophic failure of a storage structure,” Campbell said.

The cost to Michigan livestock farmers of having to increase storage capacity would run into the hundreds of millions of dollars, with the pain felt mostly by smaller operations, she said.

It’s not the first time a ban on manure spreading during the winter has been proposed in Michigan. Campbell said the measures in previous years never advanced far. One reason is the longstanding protections are updated annually to minimize the environmental threat from manure spread when necessary on frozen or snow-covered ground.

She thinks a ban would hurt the state’s livestock industry more than any good it might do for the environment.

“It doesn’t really do much to protect water quality because we already have measures in place to protect water quality. All it does is place a lot of burden on small farms and farms that are trying to work through ways to manage their manure,” Campbell said.

Environmental groups and other supporters of the legislation from across Michigan plan to gather at the Capitol on April 17 to push for approval of the measures. They point to algae blooms fed by the type of nutrients in livestock waste, produced from close to 300 industrial-scale livestock facilities in Michigan, as poisoning the drinking water in southern Michigan and Toledo, Ohio, in 2014.

“A total ban on the practice of applying waste to frozen or snow-covered ground, with no exceptions, will stem a significant source of nutrients that feed the algae blooms that compromise water quality in Michigan every year,” said Gail Philbin, the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter director.

“With the introduction of this bill, the people’s representatives have an opportunity to ensure corporations operating in Michigan are responsive to those who use its waters,” said Jessica Culpepper, food and safety health attorney for Public Justice.

Public Justice, of Washington, D.C., is involved in topics including the environment, sustainable food systems, and animal rights.