San Diego Union-Tribune

August 22, 2001

County can't absorb all its livestock, poultry waste

By Dori Meinert 

WASHINGTON -- San Diego County is among 152 counties nationwide
that produce more livestock and poultry waste than can be safely applied to
nearby cropland, according to a new U.S. Department of Agriculture report.

The report doesn't rank the counties to determine which has it the worst. Its
purpose is to highlight the consolidation of livestock and poultry farms and the potential harm to water quality, one of the authors said.

"The point we're trying to make is there are counties . . . in which there's not
adequate capacity to absorb all of the nutrients produced," said Noel
Gollohon, an agricultural economist with the USDA's Economic Research

Nationwide, the number of livestock operators declined by 50 percent from
1982 to 1997. But the number of large farms -- those with more than 1,000
animals -- doubled, according to the USDA report. Much of the growth in
large factory-style livestock farms has been seen in the South and Midwest.

Environmentalists said the report illustrates the need for more and
better-targeted conservation spending in the new federal farm bill.

"Congress must reward farmers who find new uses for manure and pursue
alternatives to large feedlots when legislators renew farm program funding this
fall," said Scott Faber, an attorney with Environmental Defense, a nonprofit
environmental group.

The group supports a bill by Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., that would increase
financial assistance to small-and medium-sized livestock operators to help
with manure management or using manure to produce energy. However, the
House Agriculture Committee approved a bill in July that would lift current
size restrictions and make funds available to large livestock operations,
encouraging greater livestock concentration and increasing environmental
problems, Faber said.

San Diego County Farm Bureau Executive Director Eric Larson said he
believes the manure problem in the county has lessened in recent years as the
number of dairy farms has dwindled.

"We're down to nine. We had in excess of 100 dairy farms a couple of
decades ago," Larson said.

The county has more than two dozen poultry farms, but much of that waste is
composted, Larson said.

However, the county also has less available land for disposing of excess
waste. Most of its farmland is devoted to growing avocado and citrus trees,
neither of which are conducive to spreading manure as are corn and other
row crops.

The report doesn't identify counties with water quality problems. It doesn't
account for measures already being taken to protect the environment.

"This just identifies physical potential. It's not saying there is a problem or that
there's not," Gollohon said.

Seven other California counties made the list: Fresno, Medera, Merced,
Riverside, San Bernardino, Stanislaus and Tulare.