Local farmer is appointed to panel on controversial farm laws

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

LITTLE ROCK ---- Carroll County agriculture activist and farmer Bryan King has been appointed to a key committee on the state board that will try to get farmers and the state working together on a plan to implement new nutrient management rules and regulations.

The controversial nutrient management plans are a part of three new laws that went into effect this year that add new regulations on governing fertilizer use, record keeping, permits, new fees and other regulations involving the use of fertilizer.

All farmers are also required to register their farming operations, which began earlier this year in Carroll County and other northwest Arkansas counties.

The Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission (ASWCC) was given the task of implementing the new laws, which are designed to monitor and regulate the use of chicken litter fertilizers and other nutrients in most counties in Northwest Arkansas.

The ASWCC was designated to implement the laws so that pollution from phosphorus, which is contained in litter and other fertilizers, can be monitored and reduced from the state's waterways, including the Kings River, Osage Creek, the White River watershed and other waterways.

The Environmental Protection Agency, Oklahoma and Missouri charged Arkansas last year with allowing phosphorous from farm runoff to pollute watersheds in Oklahoma and Missouri, including Table Rock Lake.

The ASWCC has started hearings on the regulations, where they found that farmers are upset that they are being singled out as the only source of phosphorous, when city sewage discharges, suburban growth runoff, septic tanks and other sources should be considered.

King, who has been recognized by the state Farm Bureau as one of Arkansas' Outstanding Young Farmers, operates a poultry and beef operation near Green Forest. He has been a producer for Tyson Foods for 11 years, and is among the leaders of the Carroll County Farm Bureau.

King has said in the past that he is concerned that Carroll County and other northwest Arkansas farmers are being singled out as the main sources of phosphorous pollution.

ASWCC Executive Director Randy Young announced the appointment of King and eight other farmers to the recently formed Nutrient Management Plan Advisory Committee to review public comments on the draft plans and regulations.

Young said, "The most valuable function of this committee will be providing two-way communication between the commission and the agricultural community. This group will provide expert advice and troubleshooting and will be able to resolve many agricultural issues regarding the proposed nutrient management regulations," he said.

The committee will meet March 29 and work through late April. Other appointees are Gene Pharr of Washington County, A.T. Smith of Madison County, William Blasdel of Marion County, Jerry Johnson of Polk County, John Hall of Crawford County, Bill Haak of Benton County, James Widner of Boone County, and Clarence Carson of Madison County.

King and the new committee will face a host of issues.

The state Soil and Water Conservation Commission has said that clean water was the goal, and no one disagreed that the goal was a good one.

Though the local cattle and poultry community disagreed with the methods and the resulting new laws, agriculture leaders in Carroll County have said throughout the fight that they want clean water just as much as anyone else.

Today, experts believe that high phosphorous levels that pollute the waterways come from the spreading of poultry litter on pastures, and runoff from large poultry and cattle farms.

But experts also believe that cities, towns, septic tanks, golf courses and development in general are also significant contributors to the watershed pollution.

The exact point-source of the pollution may be difficult to define, but since the issues surfaced, there are scientists, farmers, environmentalists and state and federal agencies working on testing and solutions to the problem.

The new committee is part of the state's effort to help the ASWCC avoid major conflict with the agriculture community, while enacting the laws and dealing with pollution.

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