DNR holds virtual public hearing on Supreme Beef nutrient management plan

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By Audrey Posten, Times-Register


The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) hosted a virtual public hearing on March 1, to gather comments on the nutrient management plan (NMP) recently filed by Supreme Beef, LLC.


The Supreme Beef, LLC facility is located along U.S. Highway 18/52, near Monona. It’s 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 has proposed applying it to properties in Clayton and Allamakee counties.


This is the second time since last fall that Supreme Beef has submitted an NMP. In October, following another virtual public hearing, the DNR approved a revised NMP, but with a reduction in the number of animals at the site and removal of multiple manure application fields. 


In the NMP approval letter to Supreme Beef, the DNR stated the maximum number of animals housed at the site would be 2,700 cattle instead of the capacity of 11,600 animal units. The number of fields to which manure could be applied was also dramatically decreased. If Supreme Beef wished to increase the number of animals housed on site in the future, the DNR asked the facility to submit a revised NMP for review and approval.


Supreme Beef submitted its latest NMP in February. A notice in the Feb. 10 Times-Register again listed the feedlot as having the capacity of 11,600 animal units. It also stated the operation plans to apply manure in Giard, Farmersburg, Wagner, Grand Meadow, Lodomillo, Monona, Read and Franklin townships. The NMP itself lists over 40 fields for manure application.


A lagoon has been constructed at the Supreme Beef site to hold the more than 30 million gallons of manure the animals are projected to produce. 


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.


The purpose of the hearing, said Book, was not to discuss existing permits or the past history of the facility, but for the department to gather comments on if the NMP was submitted in accordance with DNR rules and the procedures provided in those rules, and whether or not the plan complies with the provisions of the rules.


“Our field staff will review these comments along with the plan they received and will make the decision on whether or not the plan is approved or denied,” Book said. “There is not a vote by anyone in the department. It’s simply if it meets the requirements of the rules. They are required to approve or deny this plan no later than April 2.”


Jared Walz, Supreme Beef owner and operator, was given an opportunity to address meeting attendees prior to public comments, but provided no details on the facility’s plans.


“I just want to thank you all for your time and your support and your thoughts and your prayers for our plan and for our site,” he stated.


One of the issues participants noted at the hearing was the storage and handling of the manure from the cattle, which Wally Taylor, an attorney representing the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club, said the “NMP is seriously deficient in describing.”


When the Walz Energy operation was proposed, Elkader-area resident Larry Stone said he praised developers for seeking better ways to handle livestock manure by installing a methane digester, “but I strongly criticized the location in karst topography and in the watershed of Bloody Run Creek [an Outstanding Iowa Water]. I remain even more opposed, given the apparent abandonment of the digester, which means there will be even more livestock sewage stored on the site and spread on Driftless Area fields.”


Like the Supreme Beef site, some of the areas where manure will be applied are also underlain with karst, with potential sinkholes nearby. Some fields are also highly erodible, Stone noted.


“Most of the fields Supreme Beef proposes for manure applications include slopes of 14 percent, and 12 fields have slopes of 25 percent,” he stated. “Of the 45 fields listed in the NMP, 32 are projected to lose more than five tons of soil per acre per year. Three fields are expected to lose more than twice that. Much of that soil eroding from those fields could include manure, especially since Supreme Beef has not submitted plans to use erosion control practices such as contour planting, terraces or strip barriers.”


According to Stone, runoff could impact two state preserves, Roberts Creek in Wagner Township and Mossy Glen in Lodomillo Township. In addition to Bloody Run, manure will also be applied in several stream watersheds, including Silver Creek, Sny Magill, Mossy Glen, Dry Mill, Howard Creek and Hickory Creek.


“Sny Magill, Mossy Glen and Hickory Creek are cold-water trout streams. The other streams generally are spring-fed and support diverse aquatic life,” he noted.


Mike Schmidt, the staff attorney for the Iowa Environmental Council, also listed water quality threats as a concern.


“Excess nitrogen and phosphorus could cause significant harm to aquatic life,” he said.

Also concerning, said Schmidt, is his belief that the NMP proposes over-application of manure and makes unfounded assumptions regarding manure nutrient content.


“Several proposed fields cannot receive manure application and the ability to expand depends on having those fields,” he explained. “The NMP assumes manure nutrient concentrations that are inconsistent with DNR tables and guidance from independent research.”


Steve Veysey agreed.


“The single greatest problem with this NMP is that the mass balance equation with respect to N and P content in the manure is not followed. Everything else in the plan is based upon this,” he said.


Since many of the proposed land application fields are as far as 30 miles from the facility, Schmidt said dealing with the volume of manure produced at the site could make the situation even trickier.


“It does not make economic sense to transport manure that far, especially with the claimed nutrient content. That means manure might be over-applied closer to the facility because landowners will refuse to pay for transport to more distant fields. DNR identified 19 feedlots within eight miles of Supreme Beef, so expanding Supreme Beef to become such a large feedlot increases the cumulative risk of nutrient pollution,” Schmidt remarked. “Each of these deficiencies independently provides a basis for DNR to disapprove the application.”

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