DELPHI — Indiana's 1,600 pig and cattle producers are feeling the pressure of new state restrictions on their properties that officials say are designed to protect the environment and prevent fish kills.
The rules, which took effect July 1, limit how much manure can be spread on the ground and restrict the times of year it can be spread, the Journal & Courier reported. They also require that manure be measured by phosphorous level instead of nitrate level to ensure that phosphorous doesn't build up and move into surface water, where it can cause algae growth that kills fish.
"You just feel like you're regulated to death," said Jeff Cook, part owner of Cook Hog Farm LLC, a 4,000-hog operation in Delphi.
The manure produced by animals raised in large numbers is typically stored in pits, tanks or lagoons until it is applied as fertilizer for corn, soybeans or other crops, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. When properly dealt with, the manure can provide natural nutrients for crops and can lessen fuel dependency, IDEM says.
But mishandled manure can pose environmental concerns when manure leaks from storage or isn't applied correctly.
The limits on manure are designed to be a "proactive stance to try to make sure that there aren't any issues in the future," said Tamilee Nennich, Purdue Extension nutrient management specialist. But she said they are creating some financial pressures for producers, especially those with small or medium-sized operations.
"The challenge is they still have manure that needs to be applied in their fields, so they're going to need to find another place to put that manure," Nennich said. "A lot of those producers have less financial ability. It's harder for them to spread the cost."
Jay Gruber, production manager of Northwind Pork LLC in Rensselaer, said he has plenty of places to pump manure but that staying up to date on state regulations isn't his first priority when he's managing Northwind Pork's production of 6,500 sows.
"It's impossible to keep up," Gruber said. "They change all the time. There's always changes you weren't aware of. Whenever they meet, they just make new rules."
Nennich said that feeling is typical.
"IDEM makes the rules, but it's challenging for some producers to comply," Nennich said. "Sometimes it does take them several years to get into a system."
Sally Wilson of Spiceland, who lives about a mile from an 8,000-head hog farm, said she thinks IDEM's rules aren't always followed.
"(Farmers) self-report, and they take samples from their own fields," Wilson said. "IDEM doesn't have enough people to inspect."
Eleven state inspectors survey each operation once every five years. Barry Sneed, public information officer for IDEM, said the state could increase the frequency of inspections if the department gets more funding to add inspectors.
Nennich said producers should learn the rules as quickly as possible to avoid possible fines.
"I think it's really important for producers to make sure they're paying attention," Nennich said. "Producers do care about the environment, and they work hard to do a good job. They have a lot of things on their plate."