At its regular meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 14, the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission (EPC) discussed a proposed rule to ban manure application on land that is to be planted to soybeans as the next crop. It would still be okay to apply manure to land before it was planted to corn in a corn-bean rotation, but the rule would prohibit applying manure to land to be planted to soybeans.
Several members of the commission earlier this year came up with this idea and proposed the ban. They said soybeans don't need the nitrogen provided by manure because soybeans are a legume crop that can manufacture it's own nitrogen from the air. Their reasoning is that manure leaves too much nitrogen in the soil, that it is not all used by the soybean plants—and thus creates nitrate pollution when the excess N runs into lakes and rivers.
Not everyone who serves on the 9-member EPC favors the ban. The EPC is a panel of citizens who are appointed to serve. They advise the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regarding state environmental rules and regulations.
Proposal to be discussed again Dec. 5
At the November 14 meeting, the EPC ended up deciding to direct the DNR to draft a rule to reduce the amount of liquid manure allowed to be applied to land going to beans. EPC is proposing that farmers only be allowed to apply up to 100 lbs. of nitrogen per acre on land before it is planted to soybeans. Then, five years after the proposed rule goes into effect, the practice of applying manure to land going to beans would be banned altogether.
The proposed regulation would only affect those livestock producers who have operations large enough to be required to have a manure management plant for their confinement or open feedlot.
This latest proposal for the ban on manure application is scheduled to be discussed again at the December 5 meeting of EPC.
Proposed rule would limit amount
While this latest EPC proposal is a modified version of the original total ban that was proposed and discussed earlier this year by EPC, farm organizations are still worried. "The Iowa Corn Growers Association is concerned about the path the EPC has chosen to take, as there is no sound scientific data to support some of the EPC's conclusions. We will continue to monitor this issue and keep our members apprised of any developments," says Mindy Larsen-Poldberg, director of government relations for ICGA.
At the Nov. 14 meeting, EPC heard comments from the public, including farmers and farm organization representatives. At the end of the day, the EPC panel directed the DNR to draft a rule to reduce the amount of liquid manure allowed to be applied to cropland that is to be planted to soybeans. The panel also decided to totally ban the practice 5 years after the proposed rule goes into effect.
Farm groups object to lack of data
Several agricultural representatives spoke against the action during the public participation part of the meeting, including Ray Gaesser, a Corning farmer and president of the Iowa Soybean Association.
"Speaking as the president of ISA, our organization has been a leader in working with environmental organizations to reach farmers with agronomic and environmental solutions to agriculture's challenges," says Gaesser. "We believe that as the EPC, you have been given science-based data from Iowa State University that you may be ignoring. In the absence of hard data (on any water quality impacts of manure application to soybean ground at crop uptake rates) ISU has developed its best recommendations for an interim process until the appropriate data can be collected. That recommendation does not support a ban of manure on soybean ground."
In addition to Gaesser, Tom Vincent, crop farmer and pork producer and an ISA member from Perry, joined nine other farmers in speaking against the ban.
No scientific data exists to support EPC
At the November 14 meeting, once the public participation period ended, Tracy Blackmer, ISA director of research, presented information to EPC which focused on the lack of evidence linking manure applied at rates that match crop uptake levels of nitrogen on soybean ground to any water quality problems.
The Commission questioned Blackmer intensely and during its final two-hour session, voted to accept ISU's recommendation of allowing 100 pounds of nitrogen applied as liquid manure from livestock facilities required to have manure management plans to ground intended to be planted to soybeans.
However, an amendment was also added to the rule which required that after five years, the commission intends to ban all liquid manure applications to soybean ground within manure management plans. Lisa Davis-Cook of Des Moines introduced the motion for the ban.
On an 8 to 1 vote, EPC voted to amend the proposed language for the rule to ban the practice by 2011 unless there is no nitrogen leaching from the practice. "This is a definite ban after five years," emphasized Eldora farmer and EPC member Dave Petty, the lone dissenter in the vote on the amended language.
He pointed out that scientific evidence currently neither justifies the ban nor the more restrictive application rate. Petty sought a rate of 125 lbs. based upon new recommendations by Iowa State University agronomists. That would be a 38% reduction from current rates.
More research needs to be done
"While we didn't succeed in totally eliminating the ban, we were able to encourage the EPC to direct its attention to the recommendations of our land grant university, " notes Blackmer. "We believe further research will show that manure applications at lower rates will have little if any detrimental effect on water quality."
ISA will continue its research to help ISU and other research institutions come to a conclusion concerning the appropriate level of manure application to soybeans.
Wayne Fredericks, a farmer from Osage and a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, gave EPC the Global Positioning System data from his farm showing a 4.35 bu. per soybean acre yield improvement this year using swine manure. "That's $27 per acre (extra income) at today's prices," he notes. "I look at rates and rotate manure applications each year."
ISU guidelines have been adjusted
ISU agronomists earlier this year provided information to EPC suggesting a revision in the rules for manure management plans. The ISU soil scientists raised several questions. "You can't assume that all of a soybean plant's N needs are met through fixation of N by the soybean plant from the air," says John Sawyer, ISU Extension soil fertility specialist. "That is not the case."
Sawyer says a manure application rate of 100 to 125 lbs. nitrogen per acre will limit the amount of residual nitrogen left in the soil. "ISU identified a problem and they have adjusted their recommendations for farmers to follow in applying manure nutrients," notes Blackmer. "To bypass the science, you're setting a precedent," he told the EPC panel. "It should be a land grant university setting the average rate, not a private entity."