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Case-by-Case Review: Michigan Department of Agriculture's Right-to-Farm Complaint Response System

February 6, 1999 | By Patty Cantrell
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

Complaint MDA Response Critique of MDA Response

Operator: Schrotenboer

Type: Swine (250 sow farrow to finish)

Location: Ottawa County

Complaints: In ’90, ’91 and ’95 per manure runoff to ditch and county drain.

Impacts: MDEQ letter on 11/13/95 to MDA indicate concerns for water quality: "...There appears to be very little land area available to irrigate the manure. I am deeply concerned about the potential of both groundwater and surface water degradation...."

  • Because MDA inspector did not, at time of visit, see manure in the ditch, closes complaint as "not verified."
  • MDA does not ask to see soil test records.

MDA does not consider MDEQ’s observation about possible lack of adequate land for manure spreading, that rain likely washed manure away before MDA’s visit, and that a history of complaints might point to a history of mismanagement.

  • Even if the producer managed manure well, MDA does not seek out information that would confirm that.

Lax response puts environment and operator at risk.

Operator: Wilson

Type: Beef (number not available)

Location: Ottawa County

Complaint: Per potential for nutrient and sediment deposition from uncontrolled cattle access to stream.

  • MDA identifies changes, such as fencing and streambank stabilization to fix the problem. Follow up visits show producer implementing.
  • MDEQ outlines concerns, including: Producer planting an annual (wheat) instead of perennial for revegetation. Continued erosion is likely because producer used large slabs of broken concrete to stabilize banks, with no fabric underneath to prevent water from eroding underneath.
  • MDA does not apply technical specifications and standards to its evaluation of abatement actions.
  • Gives producer false impression that money and time spent on project will solve the problems and that he is protected from further complaints.

Operator: Walnutdale Farms Inc.

Type: Dairy (~ 1,000 cows)

Location: Allegan County

Complaints: Several over more than 5 years per manure runoff to Red Run Drain/Little Rabbit River.

Impacts: Biosurveys reveal few fish of any class for several miles downstream. In October ’97, spill of silage leachate and manure caused approximately 3 miles of Red Run to become septic (dissolved oxygen < 1 ppm. Standard is 5 ppm).

  • MDA closes 1994 complaint after specific abatements (pump and overhead pipeline system) completed.
  • Producer consistently tells regulators that he is working with technical experts for manure management plan.

Neither MDA nor MDEQ check to see if plans completed or implemented.

  • Size of farm and history of problems call for more comprehensive review by MDA and requirement of comprehensive manure management specifications.

Only after long-term pollution and catastrophic spill does producer start an adequate program of best management practices or invest in necessary facilities, such as storage for manure and silage leachate.

Operator: DeMann

Type: Dairy (number not available)

Location: Allegan County

Complaint: 7/8/96 per DeMann farm and two others as possible sources of runoff to Holt Drain/Fenner Lake. History of at least two other similar complaints to MDA since 1987.

  • MDA closes complaint as "not verified."

MDEQ disagrees. Reminds MDA that, on joint visit, they had identified four places from which polluted runoff was likely occurring.

  • MDA ignores MDEQ information and expertise and leads producer to believe MDEQ agrees with closing case.

Again, puts environment and farmer at risk by not following through with more thorough review of operation’s management practices and potential environmental impacts.

Operator: Twin Rivers Dairy

Type: Dairy (125 cows)

Location: Kent County

Complaint: Uncontrolled cattle access to stream, potential for nutrient and sediment runoff, and pipe directing milky discharge to tributary.

  • MDA investigates and accepts, as abatement, producer’s plan for correction.

MDEQ makes significant objections to plan: does not address important areas, such as runoff from bare feedlot, adequacy of distance between fence and stream, pond lining, continued need to irrigate in winter on frozen ground, and insufficient land for manure application.

Case indicates again that, without looking at whole farm system and without adhering to basic standards for effectiveness of abatement actions, MDA puts environment and farmer at risk, respectively, of spills and fines.

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