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20 Agriculture

Hutchinson Leader/Litchfield Independent Review

November 2012

Livestock ‘waste’ is a valuable resource hile industrial waste and city sewage captured the spotlight leading up to the Clean Water Act in 1972, agricultural waste was also a growing public concern. For thousands of years, farmers used livestock manure as fertilizer for crops. However, in recent decades, commercial fertilizer took the lead because it was cheaper and easier to use. Livestock manure often came to be viewed as an odorous waste. And when allowed to run off into waterways, it causes pollution. The “waste” reputation is reflected in Minnesota’s rules enacted in 1971 to regulate livestock feedlots through the MPCA’s Agricultural Waste Division. Today, that’s changing as rising costs for commercial fertilizer and new technology are restoring the reputation of livestock manure as a valuable crop fertilizer. Today’s feedlot regulations focus on management rather than disposal of livestock waste. Over the past 40 years, the livestock


industry has changed dramatically. In 1972, Minnesota Agricultural Statistics reported about 100,000 livestock feedlots in the state. Today, there are fewer feedlots, but more of them are much larger. Of the approximately 25,000 registered feedlots in Minnesota today, about 1,200 of the largest feedlots hold the majority of animals, and operate under federal permits.

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The initial rules in 1971 required livestock producers to control runoff from feedlots, and to properly use manure as a fertilizer. It set priorities for making feedlot improvements, triggered by complaints about pollution problems or plans for feedlot expansion. “The whole idea of environmental protection was fairly new, and it received a lot

of public acceptance,” says Wayne Anderson, who began working in the MPCA feedlot program in 1972. “We were able to find a way to link the public acceptance of environmental protection to farmer awareness of manure as a resource.” The late Milton “Jim” Fellows, a Worthington area farmer, served on the MPCA citizen’s board in the late 1960s and early ’70s. “It was quite an experience to be writing the first regulations,” Fellows said in an interview in 2003. He received one of the first solid waste-ag permits, not for a pollution problem at his cattle feedlot, but “because if we expected others to do it, I would do it myself. We used the site as an example of feedlot pollution control.” In 1974, the MPCA launched a program that brought counties into direct participation with regulation of livestock feedlots. Today, 55 counties participate in the delegated county agreement. “They recognized the value of local people being partners in this,” Anderson says. “There was no funding for counties in the early days, but they took it on because it

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