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Pennsylvania wants manure management plans

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Friday, March 30, 2012

Farmer Blaine Hutter believes a manure management plan is valuable, but he doesn't want his Mt. Pleasant dairy operation to become over-regulated by the state.

"It's important that you have to have one," he said. "How many regulations are we going to have to abide by?"

Nearly every farmer in Westmoreland County will be required to have a written manure management plan under the state's tightened regulations for anyone who spreads manure or has at least one head of livestock. The state Department of Environmental Protection offers a template to walk new farmers through the process.

Gary Sheppard, director of the Penn State Cooperative Extension in Westmoreland County, said the updated regulations will affect just about every farm in the region.

"This becomes more global in scope," he said. "The plans are to place manure where it will do the most good in growing crops."

In addition, the plan should outline how a farmer is keeping manure from polluting waterways or "sensitive areas," Sheppard said.

"The plans aren't necessarily turned in, they just have to be on site," he said. "You want to be in order, in case things go wrong."

Hutter's dairy farm uses its plan to determine where to place manure because crops are rotated among fields on the 400-acre farm just outside Kecksburg. For anyone who has livestock on their farm, "they know what they have to do to take care of the environment," he said.

Manure is seen as a "valuable asset" that is used as fertilizer, Hutter said, and farmers typically know how to handle it.

Jeff Leindecker, agriculture technician for the Allegheny County Conservation District, said the state has had manure laws on its books since 1972, focusing on larger livestock farms.

"Now they're looking at smaller operations, even one-horse farms; anyone that does not fall under the old regulations," he said.

"The DEP feels that if the farmer follows the manure management manual, they're minimizing and eliminating the potential for pollution," Leindecker said.

"Maybe you have a stream that runs through your property. You would have to keep all livestock and manure spreading at least 100 yards away from that stream," he said as an example of adjustments some farmers might have to make.

The plan means more paperwork for some farmers, said Rick Pounds, co-owner of Pounds Turkey Farm in Allegheny Township.

"It's basically more record-keeping," he said. "We've had a nutrient management plan for years, but a lot of farmers don't know about the law.

"It's a state law so it's going to affect all farmers. ... I have to tell them when, where, and how often I apply manure," Pounds said.

Pound's has about 100 cows and 11,000 turkeys on his 195-acre farm.

"We're lucky we have a manure treatment plant. A lot of smaller farms don't have that luxury," he said.

R.A. Monti, a freelance writer for the Valley News Dispatch, contributed.

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