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Manure spreading at the center of dispute between farm groups and EGLE

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Farm groups are using a two-pronged approach to stop the state from changing the rules for spreading manure. The Michigan Farm Bureau, large livestock farmers (Confined Animal Feeding Operations CAFOs), and several farm groups are suing the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). The same groups in May appealed changes to pollution permits dealing with spreading livestock manure on farm fields.

EGLE updates pollution permits every five years. This time the update to the permit which allows spreading manure on crop fields put more restrictions on where, how much, and when manure could be put on fields.

“We made changes because of what we've seen in the field to better protect the water quality for the citizens of the state,” said EGLE Environmental Quality Specialist Bruce Washburn. He says too much manure has been getting into streams and rivers, especially in the winter months as fields thaw.

“We continually see large run-off events when we get melt in those months,” Washburn said.

The state also wants to make sure if manure goes to other farms, those farms are also following practices to protect water such as grass buffers.

“My clients are very concerned about being good environmental stewards, but they're also very concerned about having a livelihood,” said Michael Patwell, the attorney representing the farmers and farm groups.

The farmers say they appealed the changes EGLE made because they say they’re over-burdensome.

“Those conditions are going to make it very difficult to produce food and grow things here in Michigan,” Patwell said.

He added the suit filed in the Court of Claims earlier this month alleges that EGLE exceeded its authority in making the changes without following administrative rules.

"There's a process that requires the government before it initiates and mandates, conditions that really could put our local farmers at a serious disadvantage, that they go through a cost benefit analysis," Patwell added. 

The farmers say this is about risking food production in Michigan.

EGLE says this is about risking water quality.

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Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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