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Health, Science and Environment

Michigan Farm Bureau claims changes to CAFO permit could put some farmers out of business

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Waterkeeper Alliance Inc.
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The Michigan Farm Bureau said it is worried changes to a permit for Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs, being considered by the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy could put some farmers out of business.

Some environmental groups, including the Michigan Environmental Council, said the updated permit would help protect water quality.

One of the concerns related to CAFOs is runoff. It can lead to phosphorus and nitrogen making it into water, and that has been linked to toxic algal blooms.

This is especially true during winter months - when the fertilizer is less likely to be absorbed by the frozen ground.

Laura Campbell is with the Michigan Farm Bureau. She said of particular concern to farmers is a new method for measuring how much phosphorus can be applied to the ground.

“We’re very concerned that farmers are no longer going to have enough land base to apply their nutrients on and what they do apply will no longer serve the crop needs with the good manure and nutrients that they’ve got.”

Campbell said it is important to protect water quality but the changes are so strict the average farmer won’t be able to meet them.

“Instead of improving their environmental performance they are just going to have to find another place to farm,” she said.

The updated permit would also institute a ban on laying fertilizer on fields from January through March.

Gail Philbin is the Director of the Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club. She said the changes are long overdue.

“If you’re running a large scale industrial facility there are things you need to adhere to in order to protect our waters because those aren’t just the farmers water those are citizens waters,” she said. “We all have to drink that water and we have to protect it.”

Philbin said it’s time to reconsider how food is raised in Michigan.

A spokesperson for the Michigan Environmental Council said the changes could lead to tough choices about farm management - but at the end of the day it is all about protecting water quality.

Comment is open on the proposed changes until December 18th.