Environmental regulations - those that currently exist or those that may soon flow down the pipeline toward your dairy - often create frustration, and quite frankly, a lot of headaches.

However, complying with environmental rules is quickly becoming the norm for more and more producers. And that means many of you will have to roll up your sleeves and prepare a comprehensive nutrient management plan - a blueprint that helps you meet existing environmental regulations in your area.

In the state of Washington, for example, all dairy operations, regardless of size, must have a nutrient management plan in place by next July, says Joe Harrison, nutrient management specialist at Washington State University. Other states already require, or will soon require, similar measures to protect the environment.

Before you put the pen down on paper, consider the following strategies that producers and environmental consultants have used to create successful nutrient management plans. Use these strategies to help you prepare a nutrient management blueprint for your dairy.

Strategy 1.Give yourself enough time.

Nutrient management plans don't come together overnight. In fact, they often require several months of preparation.

"Take a deep breath and give yourself two to nine months to get this done," advises George Hazard, senior project manager with Brubaker Consulting Group, an agricultural consulting firm in Ephrata, Pa.

"Time management is very important, especially if you are building a new facility or expanding an existing facility," he adds.

Strategy 2. Develop a budget.

One of the biggest areas that producers struggle with is the cost associated with developing a nutrient management plan.

"Comprehensive nutrient management plans are not cheap," says Leonard Meador, environmental management consultant for Global Eco-Tech in Rossville, Ind.

The information required in a nutrient management plan varies across the country, between counties, and even at the local level. Therefore, it is difficult to pinpoint the exact cost associated with a nutrient management plan.

However, it's still a good idea to set aside a budget before you prepare your plan. Hazard suggests that you include the following items in your budget:

  • The cost of a nutrient management plan could range between $500 and $4,000. A concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permit, on the other hand, could cost anywhere between $1,500 to $25,000. "CAFO permits are very broad on the cost that is needed," Hazard says.
  • Consultant fees, especially if you seek help from an agricultural consulting firm or other outside experts such as an environmental engineer. Budget an average of $200 to $1,000 per year for consulting services.
  • Cost of an annual soil test - about $20 to $30 per test.
  • Cost of a manure-nutrient analysis - about $20 to $40 per test. Conduct a manure-nutrient analysis about three times per year.
  • Increased manure hauling cost, especially if you transport manure several miles from your dairy.
  • Annual expenses to maintain best-management practices, such as seeding of buffer strips.

"If you're getting a mortgage from a bank, a lot of times you can include the permitting cost (or cost of a nutrient management plan) in the loan," Hazard adds.

In addition to anticipating these expenses, Tim Wickstrom of Hilmar, Calif., suggests that you set aside a budget for lawsuits.

Shortly after receiving an environmental permit to build a 2,400-cow dairy, Wickstrom found himself engaged in a lawsuit with opponents of his new facility. The lawsuit prevented him from breaking ground for nearly four years.

Strategy 3. Apply for grants.
Cost-share programs and grants are another way to help you foot the bill for your nutrient management plan.

Debbie VanderVeen of Veen Huizen Farms in Everson, Wash., applied for several grants when her family's dairy operation developed a nutrient management plan. "I read everything I could get my hands on," she says. VanderVeen's research paid off. The dairy received seven grants from federal, state, county and even local sources. "Check out every single possibility," she adds.

If you utilize the services of a consultant, ask him to help you identify grant or cost-share programs that may be available to you. Your conservation district or Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) also may be aware of cost-sharing programs or grant money.

Strategy 4. Gather site-specific data.

"Every farm is really site-specific," Wickstrom says. So, whenever possible, include data from your own dairy - soil test results and manure-nutrient analysis results, for example - in your nutrient management plan.

Wickstrom, for example, gathered his own data on soil type and the flow of groundwater on the site of his proposed dairy.

In Wickstrom's case, including data specific to his site also proved useful during the lawsuit. "It came back to stand solid in a court of law," he adds.

For a list of information that is generally included in a nutrient management plan, please see, "What goes into a nutrient management plan?" on page 29.

Strategy 5. Keep lines of communication open.

It's easy to get bogged down in all the details associated with a nutrient management plan. However, don't forget to communicate with the regulatory agency on a regular basis.

Consider visiting once per month or more frequently if your time allows, VanderVeen suggests. "Be personable with them," she adds.

If you are not comfortable in this capacity, consider hiring an outside expert, such as an agricultural consultant or environmental engineer. This person can serve as a liaison between you and the regulatory agency. If you are developing a nutrient management plan in conjunction with an expansion or new building project, a consultant also could field questions from the press or serve as a spokesperson at public hearings that may be necessary for you to hold prior to breaking ground on a new facility.

In addition, be willing to communicate with government leaders, your elected representatives and officials from your state department of agriculture, VanderVeen says. A good way to do this is to invite these people to visit your dairy.

During a trip to Washington, D.C., VanderVeen, her husband Jason, and their four children personally invited their state senators and representatives to visit the dairy. Several weeks later, one of the elected officials toured the dairy to learn more about their environmental efforts.

Strategy 6. Talk to your peers.

Perhaps some of the best advice is simply to talk to other producers who have gone through the planning process. Many producers who have prepared a nutrient management plan or obtained an environmental permit are willing to share their experience.

Use their advice to take some of the stress out of the nutrient management planning process.

What goes into a nutrient management plan?

Leonard Meador, environmental management consultant for Global Eco-Tech in Rossville, Ind., provides the following list of items that are commonly found in a nutrient management plan. Contact your environmental regulatory agency for a specific list of items to include in your plan.

1. Site information.

  • Names and contact information for all owners and managers.
  • Location, description of, and directions to your dairy.
  • Emergency manure action plan for handling, storing and applying manure.

2. Production information.

  • Number of cows, heifers and calves on your dairy, including average weight.
  • Estimated amount of manure and wastewater produced on your dairy.

3. Permit or certification information.

  • Federal, state, county and local permits or certifications.
  • Manure applicator certification.
  • Record of nutrient management inspections or site assessments.

4. Manure application information.

  • Written manure application agreements.
  • Individual field maps identifying setbacks, buffers and waterways.
  • Crop types, yield targets and expected nutrient uptake by crops.
  • Estimated days of manure application per season.
  • Estimated amount of manure applied per acre.
  • Estimated acres needed for manure application.

5. Activity records.

  • Soil test results.
  • Manure-nutrient analysis results.
  • Detailed records for each manure application.
    -Crop yields.
  • Drinking water test results.
  • Summary of commercial fertilizer applied to fields.

6. Mortality disposal plan.

  • Methods and equipment used for animal disposal.