Michigan regulations for manure, and contaminated wash and storm water on livestock farms

Some people ask “Are there any laws for farmers spreading manure?” Others claim, “There are too many laws” regarding manure management. So what are the laws in Michigan?

Some people ask “Aren’t there any laws for farmers spreading manure?” Others claim, “There are too many laws” regarding manure management. So what are the laws in Michigan? There is only one law, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (as amended) and the Michigan Act 451 of 1994, as amended. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) has authority to administer this law, designed to protect surface waters, with phosphorus being one of the conventional pollutants of concern. Any size livestock operation that creates a discharge of manure, silage leachate, storm water or wash wasters from the farm, that create the quality of surface waters to be impaired above allowable limits, will be in violation of this law. Michigan also has the Michigan Right to Farm Act that is not theoretically a law, but rather guidelines for all sizes of farms to follow best management practices, and for non-farmers to have an avenue to register complaints. Lets begin with the Federal law and address Right to Farm second.

Federal Water Pollution Control Act

This law defines Animal Feeding Operations (AFO) as any farm that confines animals for more than 45 days during the year for any part of a day and where the confined area has no vegetation during the normal growing season. This can apply to just about any farm in Michigan, from a three-horse stable to a 3,000 cow dairy. A farm is considered a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), and must be permitted, when they are larger than:

  • 700 or more mature dairy cows
  • 1,000 cattle (heifers, steers, bulls, cow/calves)
  • 2,500 swine over 55 lbs.
  • 10,000 swine less than 55 lbs.
  • 10,000 sheep or lambs
  • 500 horses, 55,000 turkeys
  • 82,000 laying hens
  • 125,000 chickens other than laying hens not using liquid manure systems.

Livestock operations that meet or exceed the above animal numbers are required to apply for coverage under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Any new farm that plans to expand to this size or begins a new farm of this size or larger must comply prior to populating their new or remodeled facilities. This process all happens through the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Discharging any form of manure, wastewater or polluted storm water into waters of the state is unacceptable for any size of farm. This means that any size farm that creates a problem that violates the surface water quality standards of the state will be asked to comply with the DEQ requirements. Any size AFO may be required to apply for a permit, develop a comprehensive nutrient management plan and be treated to the same record keeping, inspection and reporting requirements of a CAFO.

CAFOs are required to develop a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) and maintain records of their actions, inspections and operation and maintenance and the farm will be inspected by DEQ. The CNMP has to be developed by a certified person and a professional engineer has to develop an evaluation of manure storage structures. Every five years, CAFOs need to reapply for a permit.

All of these requirements are measure to protect surfaces waters of the state.

Michigan Department of Agriculture

Since 1988, Michigan farmers have had Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMP) for Manure Management and Utilization. GAAMPs are intended for any size farm and any livestock species. The Right to Farm Act is administered by the Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA). The GAAMPs are not technically enforceable regulations but when followed provide nuisance protection and environmental protection.

This provides uniform, statewide standards and acceptable management practices based on sound science. They were developed to provide farmer’s protection from public or private nuisance litigation under the Right to Farm Act when farmers voluntarily follow applicable practices, have a written plan and maintain records. GAAMPs also state that producers should manage livestock operations in a manner that minimizes odor impacts on neighbors.

For non-farmers, the Right to Farm Guidelines provide an avenue for complaints to be filed and for MDA to follow up with the farm in question and assess their compliance with the generally accepted practices. If the complaint documents a discharge to waters of the state, violating water quality standards, MDA is obligated to turn the complaint over to the DEQ. At that time, the DEQ has discretion as to whether the farm will fall under the CAFO permit procedures. For matters other than a violation of state water quality standards, such as odor, manure spreading concerns, etc., the MDA will work with the farm to come into compliance with GAAMPs.

For Right to Farm protection, a less intense written plan (than the CNMP) covering the management of manure nutrients and odor is needed. This plan will contain the components of manure management related to the production, collection, transfer, storage, utilization and odor control of manure, along with record keeping. For more information on the right to farm guidelines visit Michigan’s Department of Agriculture and Rural Development’s website.

In Michigan, township and county governments are not authorized to establish additional requirements on manure management. Farmers and concerned citizens should be aware of the NPDES permitting system (administered through the DEQ) for existing and new large CAFOs and of the Right to Farm Act (administered through the MDA) for all sizes of livestock. Issues and complaints will be best handled when working through the two agencies in the state that have the authority to do so and when the Permit and GAAMPs are thoroughly consulted.

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