Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Winter Manure Application: Best Practices and Rules

by Ted Funk, consulting engineer with the 
Illinois Beef Association and a retired agricultural engineer at the University of Illinois

It seems that every year around this time, full manure storages and Old Man Winter team up to force a difficult choice for some livestock farmers. Where, when, and how can we apply manure safely?

The risks of nitrogen loss and phosphorus runoff are related to the amount of time between nutrient application and the crops taking up those nutrients. But the major risk in winter is gross movement of manure to surface water causing offensive conditions. “Risk” is the key word here, and we must wisely balance three risks:
  • water quality impacts from field runoff, due to uncontrollable weather event(s) after manure application
  • manure storages having sufficient capacity vs. overflowing from normal and/or abnormal inputs
  • getting crops planted late vs. under the right conditions in springtime
Full manure storages, with no place to go, clearly put your farm in jeopardy. Even more important, earthen-embankment storages (lagoons or holding ponds) that overtop may experience catastrophic berm erosion failure, releasing large amounts of waste as a point source discharge. 

As of August 2014, there are some modifications to the Illinois EPA rules governing winter application of manure. Those rules affect classes of facilities in different ways, so let’s make sure you know in which class your facility falls. First, answer these questions that affect how you can approach winter spreading of liquid manure:

1. Are you operating under an NPDES permit or considering applying for coverage?

2. Are you working with Illinois NRCS under an EQIP contract that includes the 590 Nutrient Management standard?

3. Is your single facility considered “large” under the LMFA (based on more than 1,000 animal units capacity) or are you required under the LMFA, due to owning multiple facilities in Illinois that add up to more than 1,000 animal units capacity, to have the LMFA-style waste management plan?

4. Is your facility considered a “large CAFO” under the new IEPA CAFO regulation and you want the protection of the Ag Stormwater Exemption lined out in the new rule?

Answering these questions can be difficult for some facilities, but there are fine points about winter manure spreading regulations that may change your mind about where and when to spread.

Let’s be clear about timing. The really big and nasty manure runoff events occur in late winter, because that’s when the precipitation events are typically heavier. So, if you know you will be spreading in winter, get it over with early, and do not wait until late February or early March. 

If you answered “yes” to question (1), you have restrictions on winter spreading already spelled out in your permit. The new Illinois EPA rules affect new permits; existing NPDES permits operate under the older rules.

If you answered “yes” to question (2), my best advice is to confer with your local NRCS office about how to meet and maintain your obligations in the land treatment section of your Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan as it affects your EQIP contract.
A “yes” answer to question (3) puts your facility under the set of waste management plan rules in the LMFA (900.801 et seq). Consult the LMFA rule on facility size (900.802) to determine whether that set of rules applies to you.  Any size facility has to abide by the old Illinois EPA rule, Section 560 Design Criteria for Land Application of Livestock Waste, 560.206 Frozen or Snow-Covered Ground:  “Waste application on frozen or snow-covered land should be avoided. If wastes are spread on frozen or snow-covered land, such application should be limited to land areas on which:

a) Land slopes are 5 percent or less, or
b) Adequate erosion control practices exist.”

That’s it. Slope of the field, erosion control practices in place. 

However, if you are required by the LMFA by virtue of your facility size to have a waste management plan, the LMFA also requires that you keep records of the dates of application, the fields, and the amounts of manure applied to each field.

But here’s the caveat printed elsewhere in the regulation: even though the rules give vague restrictions about slope limits and “adequate erosion control practices,” you may still be subject to a complaint, investigation, and water quality violation notice if runoff to surface water occurs. Use common sense about where to apply, limit the rates and stay away from surface water. Prioritize fields for winter application, to reduce risk. Spread on the low-risk fields last in the season, if you need the room, and reserve some very low risk “bail-out” fields if possible.

Finally, if you answered question (4) with “yes” you now have a more extensive list of winter spreading restrictions than you did prior to the new set of rules. These restrictions don’t apply if soil conditions allow you to inject or incorporate the manure, but even then you are obliged to observe good practices according to your normal nutrient management plan. To claim the Ag Stormwater Exemption in the event of a discharge off your fields, you have to be able to show that you have taken appropriate and reasonable steps to get through the winter months without spreading manure—and that those steps just weren’t enough this year. Here are the winter restrictions (with my abbreviations) listed in Section 502.630 “Protocols to Land Apply Livestock Waste During Winter”:
  • No surface application is allowed on frozen, snow- or ice-covered land unless there is no practical alternative and your storage is going to overflow otherwise.
  • You must have a winter application plan in place; that plan includes your selection of available fields that meet the criteria in 502.630 c). Your list of available fields may change from year to year, depending on several factors including crop rotation.
  • You have notified IEPA in writing by Dec. 1 that your storages are insufficient to carry you through 120 days.
  • Surface spreading must be worked around the weather forecast. The rules are more stringent for snow or ice-covered fields than for just frozen ground. 
  • Setbacks are increased a lot for winter conditions. 
  • Monitoring fields for manure-laden discharges during melting and runoff is required, as is reporting such discharges to the Agency. See 502.630 for more details.
Calendar date 
Dec. 1 is the implied date, after which you need special dispensation to surface apply on frozen, ice or snow-covered fields, if you operate under an NPDES permit or want the Ag Stormwater Exemption for a Large CAFO.

Field characteristics
Anything that reduces soil erosion is usually a plus for selecting a manure application field. Extremes: surface-applied and unincorporated manure, normal rates, on a frozen HEL field that’s had corn silage removed—a formula for trouble. Injected liquid manure on a non-tile-drained, NHEL field that has lots of corn crop residue—you’re looking good. Which brings up all the discussion about vegetative buffers, vegetative fence rows, cover crops, pasture and hay field options, etc.—keep your options open when the spreading window starts to close. Tile drains could be trouble: monitor the outlets if you spread manure over tile drains. Some fields with shallow soils over bedrock, gravel, or sand should be avoided as well, and for operations with a permit, must be carefully selected.

Soil surface—snow or ice cover
If you surface apply on snow or ice, it’s reasonable to assume there won’t be any infiltration until the cover thaws—then snow or ice melt will take manure with it. The only protection you have is more distance to surface water, less slope, and more residue or crop cover. But if you can inject liquid manure into non-frozen soil beneath the surface, there is no specific prohibition against it—just the slope limit and vague erosion control guidelines. I’d suggest you carefully monitor runoff during a melt and do damage control if you find manure coming off the field.

By the way, one of the more sure ways to force your operation into the NPDES permit program is to be slipshod about spreading manure in winter. No dumping! Manure should be applied at a maximum of the “agronomic” rate of nitrogen or phosphorus, depending on the specific situation. There is no provision in the rules for “emergency over-application” of manure! If you aren’t sure of the rate you should use, don’t guess; make a phone call. And there is no excuse for operating a spreader that has not been calibrated. 

Don’t spread close to, or onto, waterways. Observe common sense practices. Especially with drag hose applications doing surface application (since you don’t turn off the flow during turns), lay out the hose so that you stay well away from waterways or other conduits to surface water. Plan on leaving extra-wide setbacks if you are applying on frozen ground, especially if it is ice- or snow-covered. Be prepared to clean up releases caused during disconnecting and cleaning hoses.

Those facilities that are required by virtue of size (over 1,000 Animal Units) to have a manure management plan under the LMFA are already bound to respect the manure spreading setbacks from surface water and well heads. But those setbacks should be honored by smaller operations as well; fall and winter spreading are, if anything, more sensitive times for manure runoff, and setbacks help. Keep written records of manure storage levels as we head into winter. 

IBA has retained the services of Ted Funk, a licensed professional engineer and former University of Illinois agricultural engineering professor, to visit individual farms by request of producer members. IBA will share in the cost of this confidential professional service as a membership benefit. If you are interested in learning more about Dr. Funk’s services contact that IBA at 217-787-4280.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Statewide Beef Checkoff Referendum Passes by Wide Margin

The Illinois Beef Association (IBA) announced today that the recently held statewide referendum to restart the Illinois Beef Checkoff passed with an 88 percent majority vote. 1,057 ballots were cast with 934 for and 123 against. The vote totals were certified this week by the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“We’re proud to participate in this process whereby cattle producers in Illinois are taking progressive steps to promote the beef industry in Illinois,” said Philip Nelson, acting director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

“We are very pleased with the results of the referendum. Restarting our voluntary state checkoff has been a priority mission for the beef association over the last year and we’ve been encouraged at each step in the process by the support of cattle owners around the state and our VOTE YES coalition,” said IBA Executive Vice President Reid Blossom.

The referendum spanned 12 days from Feb. 16-27 with cattle owners across the state casting ballots by mail, in person at local FSA offices, and in person at the 2015 Illinois Beef Expo. Clear majorities for support were evident in each venue with mail in ballots showing a 68 percent yes vote, FSA office polling showing 73 percent in favor, and Illinois Beef Expo polling returning a 97 percent supportive vote.

“This is tremendous news for cattlemen in Illinois. We are very grateful for all the support this effort saw from cattlemen statewide. Now, the real work begins and that’s putting into effect programs that will benefit all beef producers in Illinois by promoting our product and our industry,” said Alan Adams, a cow-calf producer and cattle feeder from Sandwich, who serves as IBA president.

The Illinois Beef Checkoff was originally created by state statute in 1983, three years before the start of the national $1 beef checkoff. When the national program started, Illinois’ state checkoff was shelved and required a full petition and referendum process to be reinstated. The favorable results from February’s referendum are not unique for beef checkoff votes in Illinois; in 1988 cattlemen in the state voted 83 percent in favor to support the national beef checkoff program in a referendum that made that program permanent.

The Illinois Beef Checkoff is different from the national checkoff in three distinct ways: the state checkoff is voluntary, all money collected stays in Illinois, and the state checkoff has more flexibility; meaning money can be spent additionally on youth and producer profitability or specifically promoting Illinois-raised beef. The program will be administered by the 14 cattle producers serving on the IBA Board of Governors’ Checkoff Division. The assessment of 50 cents per head is collected each time an animal is sold in addition to the national checkoff and any producer can receive a refund of their state checkoff. Collections of the Illinois Beef Checkoff are set to begin July 1, 2015. For more information, contact the IBA at 217-787-4280.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

IBA Announces Environmental Consulting Service

New member benefit provides assistance on various farm specific issues.

Members of Illinois Beef Association (IBA) now have a new membership benefit available  - a consulting service, which will assist with various issues that confront their farms.

IBA has retained the services of Ted Funk, a licensed professional engineer and former University of Illinois (U of I) agricultural engineering professor, to visit individual farms by request of producer members. IBA will share in the cost of this confidential professional service. Examples of assistance include:

  • Identifying areas of the farm facility or manure handling system that might be out of compliance with environmental regulations or could potentially cause problems with water quality or odor concerns

  • Basic review of the farm’s manure nutrient management plan to help identify parts that need to be updated or improved

  • Assist producers in providing a response to a regulatory agency’s visit or written notice or help in preparation of an upcoming visit

  • Suggest areas where the farm might begin or expand work with a Technical Service Provider or other consultant
“Beef producers are committed to environmental responsibility in every aspect on our farms,” said Alan Adams, a LaSalle County cattleman and current IBA president. “We take a number of steps each day to ensure we are caring for our land, air and water. This new membership benefit is providing cattlemen with risk aversion and management options from an industry expert in a low-pressure atmosphere that will help producers continue to further enhance the beef industry’s commitment to the environment.”

According to Funk, there are a number of reasons why a producer might be contact due to environmental risk factors, including: manure management, facility construction, and livestock mortality. The biggest blind spot for beef producers is open, outdoor lots with the need to control run-off.

“An outdoor lot as a facility opens beef producers to regulatory risk,” Funk said. “Beef producers don’t really go into the business to manage manure and as a facility morphs over time it’s not uncommon to have the potential for run-off into a ditch or stream. It can be a tough situation to handle, but with some forward planning we can anticipate how to comply with regulations.”

Funk also encourages producers get past the mindset that regulators are out to get them. It’s important to look at one’s system objectively and plan to make changes and if these changes are going to require extensive capital then there are cost-share programs available to lessen the burden. And, oftentimes, when a cattleman enters into an EQIP contract with the NRCS it will build credibility with the EPA.

“I thoroughly enjoy working with livestock producers,” Funk said. “I’ve been doing farm visits all over the state as an Extension agricultural engineer for more than thirty years; now that I’ve retired from the University of Illinois and have more time to focus on this type of service, I am sure I can help our Illinois beef producers gain confidence that they are doing the best possible job of environmental stewardship.”

Interested producers should contact the IBA directly to sign up for and schedule the service. For more information, contact Reid Blossom at reid@illinoisbeef.com or 217-787-4280.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Beef Producers to Vote on Illinois Beef Checkoff

Illinois beef producers have the opportunity to invest in the future of their industry by voting for the Illinois Beef Checkoff as ballot boxes open Monday.

With anticipated robust beef demand and continued high retail beef prices on the horizon, the need for strong promotion and marketing strategies will become increasingly important to make certain demand for beef products remains strong among consumers. A state-level beef checkoff program in Illinois can address this dynamic trend. All money collected in Illinois through the voluntary Illinois Beef Checkoff will stay in Illinois. This means state checkoff will not go to any national organization. The state checkoff is different from the national program in that it does not have the constraints placed on the national $1 checkoff. Namely, our state checkoff could be used to promote beef raised specifically in Illinois, which is not allowed under the federal program.

All beef producers in Illinois are entitled to one vote in the referendum. A producer is any person, regardless of age, who has owned or sold cattle in the previous year or presently owns cattle.

The referendum will be held during a 12-day window in February 2015 offering three ways a producer can cast a vote. Illinois producers are strongly encouraged to vote in-person at any Illinois FSA county office from Feb. 16-20 or at the Illinois Beef Expo in Springfield Feb. 19-22. If a producer is unable to access in-person voting locations, a mail-in ballot may be requested from the IBA office by contacting 217-787-4280 and postmarked between Feb. 16-27.

Producers with questions about the procedures and eligibility for voting in this referendum or for more information on how funds generated by the assessment can be used, can contact the Illinois Beef Association at 217-787-4280 or visit www.illinoisbeef.com.

American Heart Association® Certifies Extra Lean Ground Beef as Part of a Heart-Healthy Diet

The Beef Checkoff Program announced today that Extra Lean Ground Beef (Ground Beef that is at least 96% lean, 4% fat) is now certified by the American Heart Association® to display its recognized and respected Heart-Check mark. Retailers now have the opportunity to help identify eight different extra lean beef items as options for part of an overall healthy diet to their shoppers using one of the most trusted nutrition icons on food packaging today.
The extra lean beef cuts that meet the American Heart Association’s® requirements for heart-healthy foods as part of an overall healthy dietary pattern, and are certified to display the Heart-Check mark, include:

“Beef has many nutritional benefits and having the American Heart Association certify yet another beef cut empowers consumers to feel good about including beef in their diet, not only for its great taste but for its nutritional value,” said Jo Stanko, a cow-calf operator from Steamboat Springs, Colo., and vice chair of the Checkoff’s nutrition and health subcommittee. “Beef farmers and ranchers like myself share a common goal; to help consumers make shopping decisions to fit their needs and lifestyles by educating them about the health benefits of their food. To this end we will continue to support valid science to show consumers how extra lean beef is part of a healthy diet.”

Before putting its Heart-Check mark on any food, the American Heart Association® evaluates it against nutrition requirements based on sound science regarding healthy dietary recommendations, food categories, specific product ingredients and nutrient values.
Multiple retailers with hundreds of stores across the U.S. currently display the Heart-Check mark on certified beef items in the meat case. Retailers and processors can work with the Beef Checkoff Program to receive a discount on the certification fee for the American Heart Association® Food Certification Program.

Resources such as on-pack labels, posters and recipes are available for retailers to use in store and in shopper communications to promote the certified beef cuts.

To learn more about participating in the American Heart Association® Food Certification Program, please visit www.BeefRetail.org.

For more information about your beef checkoff investment, visit MyBeefCheckoff.com.

CattleFax - Weekly Recap

Fed cattle trade in the South was at $160 to $162 last week, steady to $3 higher compared to the previous week. Live cattle trade in the North was not established as of press time but the market tone was steady to firm compared to the previous week. The beef complex was lower last week but firmed at the end of the week as buyers stepped back into the market.

Feeder cattle were $3 to $5 higher last week. Calves also found support last week as they were steady to $6 higher. Cull cow prices were steady last week.

Corn was stronger last week as an early week rally provided strength to the corn market.

Check out today's Chart of the Day. For recent market news and analysis, visit CattleFax.com.

Economics of Bull Buying

How much can I afford to pay for a bull?

Submitted by Travis Meteer, U of I Beef Extension Specialist for Illinois Beef magazine

A popular question this time of year is “How much can I afford to pay for a bull.” My go-to answer is usually – “How much revenue loss would you have from a pasture full of open cows?” After all, we often de-value the role of the bull. We forget that he is a crucial part of the equation to making our product.

Now, the question is a good one to ask. Especially after watching calf prices climb seemingly all of 2014 and the prices paid for bred heifers at year-end, it is only logical to wonder what a good bull will cost this spring.

Old rules of thumb are good to reflect on. For instance, “two times the value of a fat steer” or “four to five times the value of a feeder calf”, are both common measures used by old-timers to determine the value of a bull. So, I tested these figures with historical prices from the Illinois Performance Tested Bull Sale and prices paid for feeders and fats from National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). As it turns out, using values from 1996 to 2014 (the last 19 years) the average bull price was four times the value of a feeder calf and 2.1 times the value of a fat steer. Looks like those old rules of thumb work pretty well.

Using these multipliers, we can speculate to the average price of bulls this coming sale season. Looking at recent market reports, 500-pound feeder calves are bringing $2.40 or more. Thus, value of a 5-weight feeder calf is conservatively $1,200. History tells us four times that value will get us close to the average. Thus 4 x $1,200 = $4,800 for an average bull price.

A conservative price for fat steers weighing 1,300 pounds is $1.60. Therefore the math tells us a fat steer values out at nearly $2,100. The previously stated multiplier of 2.1 times the value of a fat steer would yield an average bull price of just over $4,400. Thus, we have a conservative range of $4,400 to $4,800 for the average bull price.

That said, there will be many bulls that bring in excess of those figures. So, what factors contribute to bulls bringing more than the average? Are they worth the extra money?
For simplicity, let’s say a bull breeds 25 cows per year for four years resulting in 100 calves over his lifespan. With these conservative assumptions, even a small improvement in a valuable trait can greatly increase a bull’s value.

For instance, Calving Ease (CE) EPD is defined as the difference in percentage of unassisted births. So, let’s say you purchase a bull that is five points better in his CE than the breed average for current sires. For both Angus and Simmental, that would mean purchasing a bull in the top 10 percent of the breed for that trait – not an unrealistic buy. The 5-point improvement should translate to five percent more unassisted births. In the real world, it’s fair to say half of assisted births don’t make it. Thus, a five percent improvement in CED could easily translate to 2.5 percent more calves. Out of 100 calves sired over a lifetime, that’s 2.5 more calves. The added value from improved CE would be $3,000 (2.5 more calves x 500 lbs x $2.40/lb.).

The most common example for added value of a bull is improved EPDs for weaning weight (WW). Let’s say you purchase a bull with a WW EPD of 60 (breed average for Angus is 50). That’s 10 additional pounds at weaning per calf. If the bull sires 100 calves in a lifetime and a pound is worth $2.40, then the result is $2,400 more income over his lifetime when compared to the average of current sires.

Another figure bull buyers can look at are $ values (Weaned Calf Value ($W), Beef Value ($B), All-Purpose Index (API), Terminal Index (TI)). These values are expressed in dollars and if you match your herd needs with the correct index, they can help you be more profitable. In the January/February 2014 issue of Illinois Beef magazine, I discussed these indexes in a column titled “Understanding and UtilizingEconomic Indexes in Sire Selection”. You can find this piece archived on my blog.

When selecting your next herd sire, identify the traits that can add dollars to your operation. Don’t sacrifice functionality, structural soundness, docility, and other traits that can affect longevity. View purchasing a bull as an investment and treat it as such. Investing in a good bull that can improve profitable traits in your herd can allow your farm to be more competitive no matter the market dynamic.

Bottom line, bulls are a significant contributor to profit or loss in your cattle herd. The have an impact now and for years to come if you are retaining replacement females. Look for traits that hold value in your market. Find a bull that can inject those traits. The “expense” of a bull can be a great investment in the future of your cattle herd.