Swine Producer Environmental Education
Livestock Update, March 1998
Allen Harper, Extension animal scientist, swine, Virginia Tech Tidewater AREC
As we approach the new century, one of the predominant public issues in agriculture is the potential for livestock and poultry farms to impact the environment. All food animal species are being effected by the debate, but throughout the 1990's production of hogs has received the greatest amount of attention. Here in Virginia legislation currently exists that requires environmental regulatory permits for hog farms maintaining 750 or more swine weighing 55 pounds or more. In the current session of the General Assembly, at least two bills have been debated that would have further impacts on environmental regulation of swine farms in Virginia.
In response to the call for environmental protection on hog farms, pork producers have engaged in some positive actions. The most prominent example is development of the national Environmental Assurance Program (EAP). This producer educational program was developed in 1995 by the National Pork Producer's Council through cooperative efforts of pork producers, swine specialists, agricultural engineers, and soil and water conservationists. The express purpose of the program is to help producers evaluate their operations a give information on improving environmental protection and management.
Through the Environmental Assurance Program, Cooperative Extension and other educators have access to educational materials and standards to conduct training for producers on important aspects of manure management. An important theme of the training is preventing negative environmental impacts due to hog farming activities. The training sessions require at least four hours to conduct and cover collecting, storing, treating, and applying swine manure in an environmentally sound manner. Also included are other environmentally related topics such as dead pig disposal, odor reduction, and reducing nutrient excretion. Upon completion of the training, producers are enrolled among NPPC's listing of EAP certified producers.
In Virginia specific training for environmental protection on hog farms was actually initiated before the national EAP program came into existence. For example the 1993 and 1995 Virginia Pork Industry Conferences included educational programs directly related to environmental management. In 1994, a half-day seminar on meeting the challenge of environmental management was conducted for producers in the south-side and southeastern region. Since the EAP program was established in 1995, four EAP seminars have been held throughout Virginia with locations at Lynchburg, Petersburg, Farmville and Wakefield. These seminars followed the general program outline of the national EAP program but each was "customized" to specifically address conditions faced on Virginia hog farms. Development and sponsorship was by Virginia Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Pork Industry Association. Information was presented by VCE specialists, DCR Nutrient Management Specialists, Pork Association leaders, Farm Bureau and Virginia Dept. of Agriculture personnel. As a result of the seminars, nearly 100 Virginia pork producers received training and EAP certification.
Proposed legislation in the current Virginia General Assembly could alter the environmental permitting process for swine farms to include regular training and education in manure management for swine farm operators. If this occurs, a good foundation has already been established for such training through the national Environmental Assurance Program and the multiple seminars that have been conducted in Virginia under the guidance of Cooperative Extension and the Virginia Pork Industry Association. Indeed Virginia Cooperative Extension should be a lead organization in developing and delivering manure management training associated with the environmental permitting process in the state.