DNR approves Supreme Beef nutrient management plan

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This photo from earlier this fall shows construction of the lagoon at the Supreme Beef feedlot site outside Monona. (Photo courtesy of Larry Stone)

By Audrey Posten, Times-Register

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has approved a revised nutrient management plan (NMP) for the Supreme Beef, LLC open feedlot operation near Monona, but with a reduction in the number of animals at the site and removal of multiple manure application fields.

The decision from the DNR’s Field Office 1 in Manchester came Oct. 5, more than a month after the DNR held a virtual public meeting to gather input on the plan.

According to Kelli Book, with the Iowa DNR’s Legal Services Bureau, any open feedlot with a capacity of 1,000 animals or more is required to submit a nutrient management plan. The NMP is a tool producers use to manage their feedlot’s manure and processed waste water. It matches up the nutrient value of the manure with fertilization of crops and, when properly developed and used, can prevent over-application of manure, she stated.

The Supreme Beef operation is located at the same site as the once-proposed Walz Energy facility, a cattle feedlot and biogas operation that, with the use of anaerobic digesters, planned to turn manure from 10,000 cattle into natural gas. 

Now, instead of converting the manure to energy, Supreme Beef proposed applying it to properties in Boardman, Lodomillo, Giard, Mendon, Wagner, Farmersburg and Franklin townships in Clayton and Allamakee counties, according to a public notice issued regarding the NMP. 

The notice said the open feedlot operation would have the capacity for 11,600 animal units. A lagoon has been constructed to hold the more than 30 millions gallons of manure the animals were projected to produce annually.

“The cattle site is a family owned and operated endeavor, focusing on the future and aiming to contribute wholesome beef to our family, friends and neighbors. These cattle will also be fed from the commodities from our local community,” said Supreme Beef Owner and Operator Jared Walz at the Aug. 31 public meeting. “Working for the betterment of our community through our team of local employees is another way we will contribute. By hiring high-quality employees, we can help stabilize and sustain our local economy and support other families.”

In the NMP approval letter to Supreme Beef, Joe Sanfilippo, environmental program supervisor at the DNR’s Field Office 1, noted the revised NMP stated the maximum number of animals housed at the site will instead be 2,700 cattle.

“That latter figure is what the DNR has ultimately reviewed and approved,” Sanfilippo said, later adding, “if you wish to increase the number of animals housed on site in the future, you must first submit a revised NMP for review and approval, including publishing a public notice.”

The number of fields to which manure will be applied has also dramatically decreased, dropping from 47 to only 13. 

In the approval letter, the DNR said, “due to incorrect documentation of Phosphorous Index calculations, many of the fields included in the original NMP cannot be utilized for land application at this time.”

Since construction on the Walz Energy—and now Supreme Beef—facility first began in 2017, public concern has centered around the operation’s location in an area with porous karst topography, where groundwater is close to the surface. It’s also within the watershed of Bloody Run Creek, a designated Outstanding Iowa Water. 

At the public meeting, commenters worried about runoff not only from the site itself, but that many of the areas where manure was to be applied are hilly and highly erodible, as well as underlain with karst with known sinkholes nearby. They also feared over-application of manure, particularly if a field is included in more than one NMP. 

In a response to the comments, the DNR said Iowa Code establishes the land application separation distances to designated areas, such as known sinkholes, at 200 feet. 

“Supreme Beef must adhere to these requirements,” the DNR stated. “The facility has indicated that they will be hiring a certified manure applicator to apply manure. Certified applicators attend annual training specific to manure application requirements and separation distance requirements.”

Supreme Beef is also required to maintain detailed records of actual manure applications for both solid and liquid manure as well as any changes made to the NMP. Records from the facility must be maintained for five years.

In addition, facilities are required to obtain updated soil samples every four years, retain the results on site and make them available to the DNR upon request. 

“The rules are specific in that a producer may not apply more than the optimum amount of manure nutrients for the planned crop, but they do not prohibit a field from being included in more than one NMP,” according to the DNR.

Walz has stated Supreme Beef hopes to have cattle on site by Thanksgiving.

Brian Jergenson, environmental specialist senior with Field Office 1 said, from an animal feeding operations standpoint, there are no further submittals or approvals needed to populate animals. 

“Our staff will inspect the facility when it becomes operational,” he said.

Another Field Office 1 environmental specialist senior, Tom McCarthy, said the office will continue to monitor stormwater compliance until construction has ceased and the stormwater permit is closed.

Under previous Walz Energy management, the facility was slapped with two $10,000 penalties for stormwater violations at the site. Since Jared Walz took over management in mid-2019, “the site has normally stayed in compliance with stormwater regulations,” McCarthy noted.

In the approval letter, Sanfilippo said, since the feedlot will house over 1,000 animals, an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit will be required for any discharge—including manure, manure laden runoff or process wastewater—to a water of the state.

“A discharge can occur from the facility or from manure application if it results in manure runoff to a water of the state,” he added.

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