Voluntary program for manure haulers aims to protect water quality, manage odors

URBANA—Commercial manure applicators from several Midwestern states are joining forces with Extension specialists to develop a voluntary training program that will help assure environmentally safe and neighbor-friendly manure handling throughout the region.

In August, haulers from Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Minnesota met in Champaign, Ill., for the Multi-State Commercial Applicators Field Day. The field day was part of a larger, ongoing program that provides voluntary training and certification to commercial manure haulers and applicators.

Randy Fonner, a University of Illinois Extension specialist helping to coordinate the program, believes that manure haulers are interested in being environmentally friendly and “doing it right.”

“Those professionals who participate in the training and certification see the program as a way to differentiate themselves from haulers who have not gone through the training,” said Fonner. “The services of certified haulers should be worth more to livestock producers who are also interested in doing it right.”

The training at this field day included manure spill response, equipment safety, potential health and injury concerns, rules of the road, using GPS equipment to prove where manure was spread and how much was spread, identifying saturated soil and taking quick in-the-field manure tests.

Past field days have covered land application practices, odor management, calibrating equipment and a staged manure spill with a demonstration of response actions that minimize the impact of a spill.

Fonner and Ted Funk, a U of I agricultural engineer and Extension specialist, are working with Kevin Erb at the University of Wisconsin Extension and Charles Gould, Michigan State University Extension, to develop the curriculum for the pilot program.

“We’re trying to write a set of materials that are subject-oriented,” said Fonner. “They could be used by people in different states, who then add state-specific information through the use of Power Point presentations, handouts or whatever they want.”

The program offers three levels of certification, with each level providing progressive training in manure application and management. Haulers who complete the program could be eligible for reductions in liability insurance premiums.

Fonner said manure haulers also need to network with their state legislatures and state agencies to have a voice in the process that will determine what regulations will govern their industry. In an effort to foster those connections, members from several government agencies were invited to the field day.

“Our hope was to have some of the agency people talk to the haulers, see the quality of the training and recognize that it is a legitimate program—not just a rubber stamp,” said Fonner. “If involvement in this training program enables haulers to be in voluntary compliance with environmental regulations, it could forestall legislation, and the state agencies would be as thrilled as anybody, because they’re all short-handed.”

Terri Novak, with the Department of Environmental Quality in Michigan, agrees. “This program gives applicators a stronger unified voice to respond to regulations and to make their businesses better,” she said.

Dana Cook, past president of the Professional Nutrient Applicators Association in Wisconsin, works across state boundaries and sees firsthand the effect regulations have had in other states.

“We don’t have regulations in Wisconsin yet, but they’re probably coming, and we decided we wanted to help shape the rules instead of have them forced on us,” he said.

Fonner is pleased by the haulers’ increasing awareness of the importance of their input, and he encourages them to make the time and commitment to get involved.

“If they want to have input, they have to step up to the next level,” he said. “Extension can set up the framework of the program, but the haulers have to carry the message. It’s their business. They have to be the ones who say, ‘Here’s what’s going on from our perspective. Can we discuss this?’”

Rick Martens, a custom applicator from Minnesota, summed up the feelings of many of the applicators. “Voluntary compliance is just good practice,” he said. “If you over-apply manure, you’re going to ruin the field and the farmer’s not going to have you come back. I’ve left a farm site and later had the farmer comment to me, ‘We could hardly tell you’d been here.’ It’s a win-win situation.”

For info, contact Randy Fonner at (217) 333-2611 or refonner@uiuc.edu.

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