Farmers question manure spreading restrictions - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Farmers question manure spreading restrictions

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by John Wilmer

CALMAR (KWWL) -- The Department of Natural Resources is considering changing the way farmers have been disposing of manure for centuries, and it's causing a stink.

Most manure is spread in the fall, when it can sink into the ground. The problem occurs when farmers spread manure on the snow. It can't soak into the frozen ground. Come spring, when the snow melts, the manure runs off, along with the snow into local waterways which can end up in drinking water.

The DNR monitors thousands of Iowa's streams, rivers and lakes for ammonia from runoff. Last spring, the Des Moines Register reported ammonia levels spiked in Iowa rivers, causing some water treatment plants to triple their amount of chlorine.

The Department of Health says high concentrations of ammonia results in corrosion to the mouth, throat and stomach. Farmers say changing the rules would put them out of business.

Seven generations of the Mashek family have lived on the same plot of land in Winneshiek for more than a century.

"Hilltop Acres Farm has been in the Mashek family for 155 years," Dennis Mashek said.

Now the DNR is trying to change how they do business. The Mashek's milk 160 brown swiss cows three times a day, but the result of owning so many cows tons of manure.

"We test our solids on a three year rotation so we know levels of nitrogen phosphorus and potassium in the soil.  We also test our lagoon so we know the levels in there so we are putting on the appropriate levels of nutrients," Mashek said.

On Friday, in Calmar the DNR held an informational meeting with more than two hundred farmers.

"It attempts to address risks related to runoff we've been having problems obviously there is a lot of streams with water quality problems and we're trying to minimize those," Geologist, Claire Hruby said.

The DNR is also wants the farmers input to come up with a fair solution.

"We have to come up with a compromise with some folks who want a total ban on the practice and other folks who don't want any restrictions at all," Hruby said.

Farmers say these restrictions could put them out of businesses if they are forced to build holding tanks for the manure that could run upwards of 300 thousand dollars.

"If you want to get rid of the live stock industry or what's left with it, they're well on their way," Farmer Mark Schmitt said.

"We care very much about the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land we live on," Mashek said. 

Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Missouri already have restrictions on spreading manure on frozen ground.

Online Reporter: John Wilmer

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