Washington’s oversight of dairies could be toughened by stiffer penalties and more control over manure exported to other farms, according to a new Washington State Department of Agriculture report.
The report doesn’t make policy recommendations, but broaches “strategies” for plugging “gaps” in how the state’s some 375 dairies manage manure to protect water.
WSDA compiled the report at the direction of state lawmakers and with the advice of a 15-member committee, which included several producers.
“I don’t see that there’s going to be a huge amount of regulations coming out of this,” said Whatcom County dairyman Larry Stap, a committee member. “I see this as accountability — proving we’re doing a good job.”
Lawmakers ordered the study two years ago to identify “gaps” in manure-handling regulations.
WSDA Director Derek Sandison met six times with the advisory committee, which also included representatives from the Department of Ecology, Environmental Protection Agency, Washington State University, USDA and several other organizations.
The report outlines potential responses to concerns that emerged from those meetings.
A WSDA spokesman said Monday that the department will continue to meet with the advisory committee.
The department has not made any policy proposals, he said.
The concerns that emerged include:
• WSDA monitors manure applications at dairies, but not at other farms. The study suggests certifying all manure applicators could “create parity amongst all manure users.”
Stap said that would hold other growers accountable for water quality.
Washington State Dairy Federation policy director Jay Gordon cautioned that such a policy could influence farmers to choose synthetic fertilizer over manure. “We do not want organic fertilizer to be stigmatized,” he said.
• Penalties for manure-handling violations may not be high enough, broad enough or consistently applied, according to the report.
For example, dairies aren’t penalized for applying too much manure unless WSDA documents pollution, according to the report. Also, dairies aren’t fined for not following their manure-management plans.
Gordon questioned the need for such fines because dairy farmers overwhelmingly follow orders by WSDA inspectors to correct flaws in how they’re handling manure.
“The philosophy goes back 20 years or more. It’s better to get the problem fixed than just paying fines into an account,” he said.
WSDA says it will review penalties in the fall. Currently, WSDA can penalize a dairy up to $10,000 a day for polluting water. Dairies can also be fined for failing to have a manure-management plan or keeping inadequate records.
Stap said WSDA may need a “bigger stick for a dairy that just plain doesn’t care.”
“But how big of a stick? That’s always the challenge,” he said.
• All dairies must have manure-management plans, but the plans don’t have to be updated if the dairy expands. The report suggests requiring dairies to submit new plans every five years.
Stap said he told the committee that soil tests provide an annual report card on how well a dairy is handling its manure. “That is a living thing that means a whole lot more than a static thing that sits on a shelf,” he said.