The Washington State Department of Agriculture proposes to study whether it should regulate cow manure hauled from dairies and spread at other commercial farms.
WSDA monitors how dairies use manure, but the oversight ends when manure goes elsewhere. The department hopes to get a grasp on whether those manure applications threaten groundwater and waterways.
“We really don’t have a good understanding of where it goes when it leaves the dairies,” WSDA spokeswoman Kathy Davis said.
Washington dairies are under scrutiny, targeted by lawsuits and facing new Department of Ecology rules, and so is the WSDA-enforced Diary Nutrient Management Act. Environmental groups criticize the law as too weak, while industry representatives say it has worked well in protecting water.
The Legislature directed WSDA to convene an advisory committee to discuss purported “gaps” in the state law. The proposal to study extending WSDA’s oversight of dairy manure to other farms stems from the committee’s meetings.
Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon said that singling out dairy manure for new rules could cause farmers to shift to other fertilizers, such as chicken manure or synthetic fertilizers.
“Nobody ever talks about that,” he said. “What are dairy farms going to do with the manure?
“Stigmatizing one nutrient source is going to create problems,” Gordon said. “It (dairy manure) is incredibly important as a nutrient source.”
WSDA has asked for $200,000 from the state’s general fund to conduct the study. The governor’s budget office will consider forwarding the request to the 2018 Legislature.
The study would include looking at how much manure leaves dairies and how many places apply it. The debate over regulating manure has persisted for years, according to WSDA. Proposals range from voluntary training on properly applying manure to a “more robust regulatory certification process,” according to the department’s budget request.
“From this assessment, the agency will be able to determine which type of program is warranted, if any,” according to WSDA.
The department also has asked for $200,000 for more workshops on applying manure. Some 32 workshops in the past two years have attracted about 1,000 participants.
Gordon said the workshops have shown the keen interest in preventing manure from polluting water. The federation places a higher priority on funding more workshops than the study, he said.