CAFOs, Buffers and Row Crop Land

By Tim Ibbeson

Since the E. coli outbreak last fall, many clients have been asking about buffer zones between concentrated cattle operations and row crop land. The guidance provided in the GAP metrics that stemmed from the Marketing Agreement say, “due to a lack of science at this time, an interim guidance distance of 400 feet from the edge of crops is proposed. This number is subject to change as science becomes available.”

The buffer distance between cattle operations could, after research is concluded, go down or it could be raised to double or triple the current guidance. My opinion is that no single number will work as a “one size fits all” standard. Risk and mitigating factors being looked at right now by researchers including topography (whether the AFO or CAFO is uphill or downhill from crops), runoff and soil leaching (through or from the AFO or CAFO), and flooding (whether historical or a recent major event).

As we know, the CDHS and FDA have “linked” the recent spinach and shredded lettuce outbreaks to crops produced about a mile from free range cattle operations and dairy operations. With topography, it would be a greater benefit to a farmer to own or rent land uphill of the cattle operation. If it is indeed downhill from a feedlot, runoff from a major rain event can present a concern. It is reasonably likely that E. coli of one strain or another will be in the ruminants of cattle and runoff coming into contact with leafy greens could adulterate the products.

Flooding also poses a risk. The GAPs do have testing requirements for land used for agricultural production that has had a recent major flooding event or historically floods. If flood waters contain E. coli and it is reasonably likely that the flooding will cause adulteration of the fresh produce, the GAP metrics provide that the buffer must be within 30 feet of the flooding. Again, this is just an interim guidance standard subject to change after more research has been done.

If the land in question is to be utilized for agricultural row crop land, significant weight should also be given to which company will be processing the leafy greens. Each processor may have different buffer requirements of its growers. Further, an individual processor may impose different buffer requirements on each of its growers.

While there are currently no laws that regulate buffers or accepted distances from feed lot operations and row crop land, there are a few statutes that deal with CAFOs:

40 CFR § 122.2 – “Point source means any discernible, confined, and discrete conveyance, including but not limited to any pipe, ditch, channel, tunnel, conduit, well, discrete fissure, container, rolling stock, concentrated animal feeding operation, landfill leachate collection system or vessel or other floating craft, from which pollutants are or may be discharged. This term does not include agricultural storm water discharges and return flows from irrigated agriculture.”

40 CFR § 122.23(a) – Concentrated animal feeding operations are point sources subject to the NPDES permit program.

27 CCR § 22560(a) General – This article prescribes statewide minimum standards for discharges of animal waste at confined animal facilities. These standards shall either be imple-mented in any WDRs issued for a particular animal waste facility or shall be made a condition to the waiver of such requirements.

27 CCR § 22560(b) ROWD – A discharger required to submit a report of waste discharge shall provide the following general information and shall report any material changes as defined in Section 2210 of Title 23 of this code:

(1) average daily volume of facility wastewater and volume or weight of manure; (2) total animal population at the facility, and types of animals; (3) location and size of use or disposal fields and retention ponds, including animal capacity; and (4) animal capacity of the facility.

27 CCR § 22560© Regulations Are Minimum Standards – The RWQCB shall impose additional requirements, if such additional requirements are necessary to prevent degradation of water quality or impairment of beneficial uses of waters of the state.

27 CCR § 22561 General Standard For Surface Water – The discharger shall prevent animals at a confined animal facility from entering any surface water within the confined area.

27 CCR § 22562(a) Design Storm (for Run-On/Run-Off Control) – Confined animal facilities shall be designed and constructed to retain all facility wastewater generated, together with all precipitation on, and drainage through, manured areas during a 25-year, 24-hour storm.

27 CCR § 22562© Design Storm (for Flood Protection)

Retention ponds and manured areas at confined animal facilities in opera-tion on or after November 27, 1984, shall be protected from inundation or washout by overflow from any stream channel during 20-year peak stream flows.
Existing facilities that were in operation on-or-before November 27, 1984, and that are protected against 100-year peak stream flows must continue to provide such protection.
Facilities, or portions thereof, which begin operating after November 27, 1984, shall be protected against 100-year peak stream flows.
The determination of peak stream flows shall be from data provided by a recognized federal, state, local, or other agency.

This article first appeared in Volume 1-2 of L+G’s Food Safety Newsletter, in July 2007.

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