Regulations on poultry farmers re implemented

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The state's plan to regulate the use and management of fertilizer and poultry litter, which has upset Carroll County farmers for two years, is moving right along as the Arkansas Soil and Water Conservation Commission approved last week the implementation of three new state laws.

The laws apply only to Carroll County and other northwestern counties, in the White River, Kings River and other watersheds that flow into watersheds in Oklahoma and Missouri.

The three laws approved in 2003 by the state Legislature, over the protests of the Carroll County Farm Bureau and other northwest agriculture interests, apply to the handling, spreading and use of fertilizer and poultry litter on farming pastures, poultry operations, golf courses and lawn maintenance companies.

Originally, the golf courses and lawn maintenance operations weren't included in the original package of laws, but at a series of public meetings throughout northwest Arkansas over the past year, protests that the laws targeted farmers only were apparently taken into account.

There is significant disagreement over who is more responsible for the nutrient runoff that pollutes waterways, with farmers declaring there was no solid science that said urban growth, sewage plants and other sources weren't being held accountable.

The three-law package still does not include sewage plants or urban runoff. The complaint is that the laws applied only to northwestern areas of the state went unheard. Local Farm Bureau leaders have insisted that the laws are the result of lawsuit threats from Oklahoma and Missouri, who claim Arkansas watersheds are putting too much phosphorous into the groundwater and large watersheds such as the White River, which flows into Oklahoma, and the Kings River, which flows into Table Rock Lake in Missouri.

Last week, Soil and Water commission attorney Ed Swain said that last week's adoption of the new rules allows the state to begin certifying people to write nutrient management plans for farms in "nutrient surplus areas," according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette.

The move also allows the state to begin certifying people to spread commercial fertilizer and poultry litter so they don't pose a threat to nearby streams in the "nutrient surplus areas."

Those areas include Carroll, Boone and 12 other counties in the northwest.

In a new development, Boone County is going to the legislature again, to try to get Crooked Creek watershed removed from the nutrient surplus list, removing farmers in parts of Boone, Newton, Marion and Searcy counties from the controversial phosphorous regulations, according to the Harrison Daily Times.

Sugarloaf Creek, Bear Creek and Long Creek watersheds will still come under the state's oversight.

Rep. James Norton of Harrison said he would carry such a bill to the legislature. The move apparently has the backing of Soil and Water Director Randy Young.

It was noted that Crooked Creek doesn't flow into any other watersheds, according to Norton. Sen. Randy Laverty apparently will also back the bill.

At last week's meeting, the Soil and Water Commission set a 120-day emergency period after the session ends to act on the regulations.

The commission plans to immediately start training local conservation district workers to prepare the fertilizer regulations.

One of the laws requires poultry farmers with more than 2,500 birds to register with the state. That law takes effect early next year.

The local county conservation workers will be required to oversee registration and certification of litter and nutrient spreaders, and they can impose fines and penalties if a farmer is found to be putting too much nutrients containing phosphorous into a watershed.

Fertilizer applicators have to be licensed by the conservation district and farmers are required to keep records of all nutrient spreading.

Farmers also face fines and penalties for violations of those laws.

Since Carroll County and other counties have very few conservation workers, the question remains how enforcement will work.

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