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Great Lakes Article:

Environmental groups want farm limits
Large feed permit could keep state's waters cleaner, they argue

By Malcolm Johnson / Associated Press


   LANSING -- Large animal feeding operations must be regulated by state water quality laws, not just agricultural management rules that are now being proposed by the state, an environmental leader said.
   "We're concerned the standards have never done the job," said Anne Woiwode, director of the Michigan Sierra Club. "These are nice guidelines, but they're inadequate. We're focusing on a water pollution permit."
   State Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Sara Linsmeier-Wurfel agreed that water quality permits are critical. Under a January agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality said it would require water permits for large feeding operations.
   But Linsmeier-Wurfel said the department also wants agriculture management standards to be in place.
   "This has been settled for a while," she said. "This was to reach compromise. We said all along that (management practices) are one piece of the pie."
   The two made their comments after a state agricultural committee held a public hearing on the proposed management practices for livestock production facilities.
   Although smelly, polluting "factory farms" have been widely criticized by environmentalists and homeowners, no one attended the hearing to criticize or defend them.
   The proposed standards now go to the state Agriculture Commission for adoption next month. They would define acceptable sites for livestock production facilities, spell out ways to limit pollution and recommend how best to handle manure.
   The standards divide land into three groups: traditional agricultural land, more populous areas where there is more potential impact on people and a third category where large livestock operations are inappropriate because of human density or potential water pollution.
   As long as farmers in each of those land groups comply with the standards for that group, they are protected under state right-to-farm laws which bar nuisance lawsuits, said Gary Boersen, engineering specialist for the state Department of Agriculture.
   Boersen said Michigan has between 250 and 300 "factory farms" with more than 1,000 animals each.
   "There's areas of the state where there are a lot of concerns over the number of animals there are in the area," he said.
   But he cautioned that the definition of such farms is vague and changing.
   Woiwode said once the Department of Environmental Quality produces a permit for large farms later this year, that permit should supersede the recommended agricultural practices.
   "They are voluntary to start with. They are virtually meaningless," she said. "What we are looking for is more detail, more specifics."
   Large farms has been the subject of several lawsuits in Michigan. Earlier this month, the Sierra Club announced an agreement designed to curb water pollution from three factory farms.
   The settlement, filed in U.S. District Court, resolved manure and other animal waste problems at three facilities in Ottawa County and was expected to reduce pollution of the Grand River and its tributaries, the Sierra Club said. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency backed the Sierra Club in the lawsuit.
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