March 2019 - Agriculture Stewardship - Land, Water, Livestock

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Ag Water stewardship

March 2019

Waste to Worth highlights science on livestock, environment

livestock environment

The 2019 Waste to Worth conference will be April 22-26 at the Graduate Hotel on the University of Minnesota Minneapolis East Bank campus. Waste to Worth brings together the nation’s best science on animal agriculture and the environment with:

  • Innovative outreach
  • Opportunities to meet and network with outstanding people
  • Mix with multidisciplinary specialists in a collaborative atmosphere

Optional tours will visit various agriculture and livestock facilities including: Simply Shrimp near Willmar, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, Creekside Soil, Riverview Dairy, West Central Research and Outreach Center, AURI, and Sustane organic fertilizer. More information and registration are available on the W2W website.

Livestock and septic systems contribute to Minnesota River bacteria impairments

Minnesota River Bacteria TMDL 2019

Water quality in the Minnesota River is expected to improve if a number of actions are used to reduce current Escherichia coli (E. coli) bacteria levels, according to a report drafted for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). The MPCA invites comments on the draft report through March 6.

The draft report addresses five specific segments, or “impaired reaches,” of the main stem of the Minnesota River. The MPCA investigated bacteria levels, flow records, and water quality over time in order to develop the Total Maximum Daily Load study, or TMDL, for the bacteria. The TMDL establishes the maximum amount of pollutant the waterbody can assimilate while still achieving water quality standards, and outlines what pollution reductions are needed to meet those standards.

Primary sources of  E. coli entering the Minnesota River are livestock from unpermitted animal feeding operations, and septic systems that represent public health threats. The latter include both faulty septic systems and the illegal use of straight pipes carrying raw sewage directly to surface waters. The MPCA determined that a handful of other potential sources, including discharge from wastewater treatment plants, municipal storm sewer systems, and permitted animal feedlot operations that are in compliance, are not likely to be substantial sources of the bacteria.

The most effective practice to reduce E. coli loads from human sources is to upgrade or entirely replace faulty septic systems. Several best management practices could reduce E. coli loads from animal feedlot operations, including better waste management through additional waste storage facilities and more effective land application of manure. Other best management practices involve using filter strips or riparian buffers to filter runoff and trap pollutants before they reach waterbodies. Limiting animal access to streams and providing alternative drinking water supplies for livestock away from streams will reduce E. coli loads, too.

Overall, the level of impairment outlined in this report is low to moderate when compared to the impairment of the Minnesota River’s tributaries; however, addressing failing septic systems and adopting better manure management practices will help reduce bacteria levels and restore the impaired reaches to meet water quality standards for aquatic recreation.

Comments on the draft report should be sent to Scott MacLean, MPCA, 12 Civic Center Plaza, Suite 2165, Mankato, MN 56001, or by email to Written comments must include a statement of your interest in the report and the action you wish the MPCA to take, including specific references to sections of the draft report you believe should be changed and the reasons for making those changes. Comments must be received by 4:30 p.m. on March 6.

Governor’s budget tags $2M for investigating nitrate pollution in karst region

Well water testing

Gov. Tim Walz is recommending $2 million to fund a generic environmental impact statement (GEIS) of nitrate pollution of groundwater in the sensitive karst region of southeastern Minnesota. The GEIS would investigate sources of nitrate, evaluate ways to address nitrate contamination, and inform the review of new projects. A public information meeting is scheduled for 5:30-8:30 p.m. Monday, March 25 at the St. James Hotel in Red Wing.

The Dept. of Agriculture recently compiled extensive data on nitrate contamination of drinking water wells. The MDA Township Testing Program indicates that numerous townships in the karst region with private wells are at or above the 10 milligrams per liter health risk limit for nitrate. According to existing studies, the following sources of nitrogen most likely contribute to the current nitrate levels in groundwater, surface water and drinking water, and their respective significance in the karst region would be evaluated as part of the GEIS study:

  • Commercial fertilizer and manure application applied to row crops
  • Aging septic systems
  • Biosolids from wastewater treatment
  • Animal agriculture and feedlots
  • Natural background and atmospheric deposition

The Environmental Quality Board will make the decision on whether to conduct the GEIS and the 2019 Legislature will decide on any funding.

Report cites Red River water quality concerns, solutions

red river Fargo

The MPCA recently completed Minnesota's first comprehensive study of water quality and fish and insect communities in the Red River of the North from its headwaters near Breckenridge to the Canadian border. The study led to these primary conclusions:

  • In places there is too much sediment to meet the standards designed to protect fish and other aquatic life. It makes it harder for many fish to find food, detect predators and reproduce in cloudy water. Some stretches are impaired for swimming due to high bacteria levels. Phosphorus levels are impacting downstream waters and nitrogen levels are increasing. Generally speaking, fish and aquatic insect communities are doing reasonably well, but decline as you go downstream.
  • Solutions include: Implementing additional practices and projects that help reduce peak flows during spring runoff and heavy rains, and increase base flows during dry periods. Landowners, watershed districts and others having been working toward these goals but more is needed to keep our farmlands highly productive while at the same time improving and protecting water quality.

The report and more information are available online here. Photo: Red River access in Fargo.

Farms receiving manure must keep records, follow rates

The MPCA feedlot program is looking for ways to spread the word about the responsibilities of crop farmers who receive manure transferred from livestock farms for crop fertilizer. Inspections of transferred manure recipients have revealed a lack of record keeping. Manure recipients are required to provide information on field locations and the manure application rate on each field back to the feedlot owner where the manure was generated.

It is recommended to use the same record keeping forms available to feedlots that do not transfer manure, which are available at: These records must be kept for a minimum of three years for land outside special protection areas, and six years for land located within special protection areas. These records are different than those required to be kept by custom applicators. All manure applications are required to observe setbacks to sensitive features. In general, if manure is surface applied and not incorporated within 24 hours, a 300-foot setback is required to all water features.

For more information, contact your regional Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) office feedlot staff.

Bahr, Kashmark join MPCA feedlot program staff

The MPCA feedlot program welcomed two new staff members in February. JoLisa Bahr joined the MPCA feedlot staff in the Marshall office, and Dustin Kashmark joined in the Detroit Lakes office. Also, in October the feedlot program welcomed Dave Malakowsky in the Mankato office, and Nathan Bird in the Rochester office.

JoLisa is a graduate from South Dakota school of Mines and Technology, Rapid City, with a BS in environmental engineering. She has several years of environmental permitting and compliance experience, including as a brownfields coordinator in Montana, a health, safety and environmental specialist for a company in South Dakota, and more recently as director of environmental protection and natural resources for the Upper Sioux Community in Granite Falls.  

Dustin is a graduate from Minnesota State University Moorhead with a BA in biology. He has various work experiences including at an early age for his family’s livestock trucking company in western Minnesota and more recently as a technician at a plasma center in Moorhead, and a lab assistant at RMB Environmental Laboratories in Detroit Lakes.

Delegated county feedlot program news

County feedlot officers convention March 26-28 in Marshall

The 18th annual convention of the Minnesota Association of County Feedlot Officers will be March 26-28 at the Ramada Inn in Marshall. MACFO represents the 50 counties delegated by the MPCA to administer the state feedlot rule (Chap. 7020) with the exception of large feedlots requiring a state or federal operating permit. The program includes: Program updates (legal, permitting, compliance), industry presentations (Pipestone Systems, Centrol, Whitetail Farms), and tour of the swine research facility at South Dakota State University.

County feedlot staff update

Several feedlot delegated counties have announced new County Feedlot Officers: Mower: Valerie Sheedy; Stearns: Shelby Richard-Hoffman; Waseca: Brian Zabel. In Norman County Mark Christianson will be CFO following the resignation of Courtney Habedank from the Norman County SWCD. Formerly with the MPCA feedlot program, Reba VanBeusekom is the new CFO in Todd County.

In the news

To clean up the murky Minnesota, state must control septic systems and livestock manure, Star Tribune, 2/17/19.
Cover crops, reduced tillage topic of winter workshop in Renville, West Central Tribune, 2/19/19

Farmer scientists: Five trials in managing for soil health

Working with Dr. Robin “Buz” Kloot, Research Associate Professor at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health, five farmers seek to quantify the potential benefits of conservation practices that build soil health. This video follows them on their journey.

Discovery Farms data on controlling nutrient loss

University of Wisconsin Discovery Farms and Discovery Farms Minnesota have a large dataset from working farms on controlling nutrient loss. The data are valuable in making conclusions and recommendations about farming systems' impact on water quality. Here are four tips for controlling nutrient loss on your farm.


March 12-14: Midwest Poultry Federation convention, St. Paul River Centre.
March 19: Red River Basin Drainage Conference, Courtyard Marriott, Moorhead.
April 22-26: Waste to Worth Conference, Graduate Hotel, Minneapolis.

Send the news

The MPCA Feedlot Update welcomes news from partners about, projects, people, and upcoming events. Email submissions to Past issues of Feedlot Update are available on the feedlot program publications webpage.