By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
State and federal environmental requirements are just a part of doing business on today's dairy farms, but they are also likely to be the biggest headache for dairymen who are more interested in milking their cows.
When new manure-management rules were imposed on Idaho dairies in the late 1990s, Marsha Neibling saw both an opportunity and a way to help dairymen maneuver through the regulatory maze.
The state was developing new rules for manure management on dairies, working closely with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to revise and update its Nutrient Management Standard focused on nutrient management plans.
Niebling's husband, Howard -- a biological and agricultural engineer with the University of Idaho -- was involved in developing the new rules with the state Department of Agriculture, and the couple knew a lot of dairymen through their children's involvement in 4-H.
It all gelled into Neibling putting together a pilot project working with a couple of early-adopter dairies to figure out what was required for a successful nutrient management plan and putting those components in place.
She started her consulting business in 1998 with a huge learning curve, she said.
Her goal was to assemble all the information dairymen needed for the yearly review of their plans and help them carry out and monitor the plan.
She sets up compliance plans, and then all the dairyman has to do is follow the plan.
"That way when an inspector comes, they're in complete compliance," she said.
Neibling compiles the extensive records an operator needs into a neat, organized, plan book.
She also offers her services to farmers and businesses, organizing their historical data so they can track their environmental trends and make adjustments as needed.
"All of what I do is to help keep dairyman, farmers and businesses in compliance with state and federal regulatory legislation," she said.
She also acts as a liaison with regulatory agencies. If an inspector has an issue, he can call Neibling and she can figure out what needs to be done and take care of it, she said.
More often than not, however, it's the dairyman that calls her to ask her to call the inspector, she said.
"People I do it for seem very happy. The inspector sees the book and knows they've taken the initiative and put it together in an organized way," she said.
She is also able to alert dairymen about what regulators are looking for and what's coming down the pike. Often, operators will need to adjust what they're doing now to comply with what's coming, she said.
"That's my goal, to make it useful so they can plan proactively and stay on top of things," she said.
"She plays a very important role working with the large dairies across southern Idaho. I have lots of respect for her," said Dick Johnson, Idaho state nutrient management specialist with USDA-NRCS.
Neibling is professional and has effectively worked with producers to make their nutrient management plans viable by following them day by day and staying current with state and federal requirements, he said.
Company: Neibling Environmental Consulting
Location: Kimberly, Idaho
Education: Bachelor's degree in biology and master's degree in environmental studies, Purdue University
Family: Husband, Howard Neibling; daughters Jen, Kristin and Anna; son, Jeremiah.
Employees: Daughter, Jen, who has a bachelor's in biological and ag engineering and worked for an environmental remediation company for three years; six seasonal contract workers do soil sampling.