Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy: How does it affect swine producers?

Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy: How does it affect swine producers?

Many of you have heard of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy (NLRS) released for comment earlier this year.  The main goal is to reduce Illinois' contribution of nitrate and total-phosphorus transport to the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi River and its tributaries.  


If you study the NLRS document in detail, you realize at least a couple of things: 1) nutrient loss reduction involves a lot more than just agriculture, but ag by itself is a large component; 2) livestock per se doesn't get many "column inches" in the story. 


But before you get too comfortable thinking perhaps the Strategy doesn't affect you, understand the implications of the section in the NLRS document about land application of manure.


The NLRS is a watershed-focused program, meaning management practices introduced, nutrient goals and the metrics for evaluating progress will be linked to -- and hopefully appropriate for -- your watershed.  The four segments under the livestock heading, "Practices to Reduce Nutrient Losses from Livestock Production" are land application of manure, stormwater runoff, pastures/grazing and feed.  For swine producers who have totally enclosed facilities with few or no outside lots, the segment that demands attention is the one addressing manure application. 


Let's look at the practices in that segment one at a time.  The italicized phrases below are taken verbatim from the NLRS document:


  1. Applying manure at agronomic rates based on University of Illinois and USDA NRCS

Guidelines.  Calculating the appropriate manure application rate has been stressed in producer training programs for years.  But I am aware that the actual as-applied rates can slip toward the high side for various reasons.  These reasons might include:

  • Matching spreader tank capacity to the length of the field to get the tank empty at the end of a round, rather than have a little manure left in the tank and have to drive a deadhead.

  • Water conservation in the buildings reduces manure volume and increases nutrient concentrations, but plans have not been updated to reflect more nutrient-dense manure.


Does your nutrient management plan show the real picture, or should you update the as-applied rates to match the records of manure application?


  1. Injecting or immediately incorporating applied manure into the soil to minimize the potential for manure off-site movement.  Most of our swine producers are already injecting all liquid manure.  I guess that is a good thing in the estimation of the Strategy authors.  Some folks are top-spreading on cover crops in the fall, however, and the NRLS does not sufficiently address that combination of practices.  The Strategy does give a lot of credit to cover crops.  Perhaps our industry could argue that some situations favor surface application of manure, where a growing cover crop protects from runoff and reduces nitrate leaching.

  2. Avoiding manure applications when precipitation is anticipated within 24 hours.  In my opinion, this admonition is aimed primarily at surface-applied manure that is not incorporated.  Injected or incorporated manure is not nearly as vulnerable to runoff events.  However, if the soil surface is really saturated with manure after spreading, rainfall runoff will be greater.  You have to use good judgment about manure application timing when rain is on the way.

  3. Following the appropriate application setback (as statutorily defined) when applying manure in critical areas.   Granted this may be effective, but your manure management plan should already show that you honor the prescribed setbacks from surface water and from the conduits leading to such water.  Here's something that is missed in the Strategy, though.  Small and medium AFOs are often not required by way of the LMFA to have a manure management plan.  Oops.  The old IEPA 560 rules, as applied to small and medium AFOs, are somewhat vague about setbacks.  There are a lot of "should" statements but not many "shall."


If your facility is under the 1,000-animal-unit threshold, think carefully about which setbacks make sense for your fields and manage accordingly.  The NLRS is couched in terms like "voluntary," but there are folks who really want the IEPA 560 land application rules, which date back to 1976, to be re-worked and thus stretch the manure application rules in the new IEPA 502 NPDES Permits section to apply to all livestock facilities.  That would be a game-changer.


  1. Avoiding or minimizing manure applications to snow-covered or frozen areas.  Once again this pertains to surface-applied manure. I agree that producers who fail to get manure spread before the ground freezes are asking for trouble.


Next up?  What should you do about manure application on tile-drained land?  Although this isn't mentioned in the Strategy, I think livestock producers need to be concerned for reasons different from commercial fertilizer users.  The NRLS talks a lot about management of tile-drained land and the possibilities for various edge-of-field controls. 


The Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy is a big-picture document representing a real monster of a plan.  It's not perfect.  It's not finished.  The Strategy touches on many aspects of Illinois business, public and private.  I think we must keep in mind what's happening in the Chesapeake Bay area and other regions, and ask ourselves about alternatives for the Mississippi River basin -- voluntary implementation of creative practices or more water-quality regulation.  Livestock industry participants must be informed about discussions and possible actions producers can take to be pro-active in the struggle to keep nutrients in place for crops.


For more information, get a copy of the Illinois Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy from the Illinois Department of Agriculture or other sites.  If you only have a little time to look into the document, see the Executive Summary and skip down to Section 6, "Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategies for Agricultural Non-Point Sources." 

Ted Funk