Sweeping rule changing state
A sweeping rule at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to update farm conservation standards was approved by the department's policy board last week and will now proceed to get comments from the public.
The rule changes will allow DATCP to implement standards that have been enacted at the Department of Natural Resources including changes to tillage setbacks, phosphorus index and process wastewater.
The rule revision makes minor changes to expand soil erosion standards to include pastures and clarifies how soil erosion is calculated from wind erosion.
The proposed rule also expands the nutrient management standard to include pastures and allows a phase-in period for implementation of nutrient management planning on pastures subject to cost-share requirements.
By 2020 all pastures must have nutrient management plans, under the proposed rule.
The DNR's rule prohibits significant discharges from feed storage and other sources of "process wastewater" and this DATCP rule makes feed storage runoff control a cost-sharable practice.
It also recognizes less costly approaches to managing feed storage discharges.
The rule also updates Farmland Preservation Program requirements to reflect DNR standards.
It replaces county conservation standards with state performance standards based on NR 151, but delays implementation of the DNR's performance standards until 2016 and allows a phase-in period.
The rule also re-defines the concept of compliance and includes the concept that compliance must be achieved on the whole farm.
It allows landowners to remain in compliance with nutrient management standards when they add or convert land as long as they update their nutrient management plans.
There has been a longstanding misperception that nutrient management plans must be updated every year and in reality they most only be updated when cropping systems change, DATCP officials said during a presentation on the rule change.
The proposed rule also defines the expanded responsibilities of counties related to compliance monitoring and streamlines county recordkeeping for DATCP monitoring purposes by setting minimum requirements for documenting county compliance determinations.
The rule details how counties issue certifications of compliance to enable farmers to fulfill the requirements in tax land and to document compliance.
Richard Castelnuovo, section chief of Land Management and Engineering at the department, explains that the rule also clarifies the process for issuing notices of noncompliance including the addition of a note that provides criteria for exercising sound judgment in pursuing any action against a farmer.
In addition, he told board members that the rule changes the criteria for DATCP grants to give greater weight to farmers, ensuring that farms are a priority for DATCP funding.
The rule limits county use of staffing grant money to pay for support costs such as training, to ensure that DATCP funds are paying for staff time that will provide technical assistance.
Castelnuovo said the rule was drafted to better support farmers in their efforts to implement conservation practices by focusing on the use of cost-share dollars. It excludes the use of cost-sharing on land owned by state and local governments.
It also reduces the cost-share rate to 50 percent for projects involving streambank protection and other practices when they are not required to implement performance standards on farms.
The rule includes clearer language that "economic hardship" cost-sharing is available only for owners or operators of farmland.
The rule updates cost-share standards to better implement the DNR rule and tightens requirements for the use of engineering certification and job approvals for plan, design and certification practices.
Under this proposed rule DATCP will be able to update standards for certification without opening the rule to make changes and this will allow the department to better coordinate the job approval activities at the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"It's a modest rule revision, we're not re-inventing the world but it's needed to implement NR 151," Castelnuovo said.
It will target funding to farms for cost-sharing and give less weight to non-farms.
"We don't have a lot of money - $60,000 doesn't buy a lot when it comes to many of these practices," he said. "I'm not happy we don't have money to do all these programs. They're my programs."
The idea of this rule is to squeeze every bit of value out of the money that's available.
Once the rule is officially published the department plans hearings in late March and early April.
Dates include Eau Claire, March 26; Appleton, March 27; Tomahawk, March 28; Platteville, April 3; Madison, April 4.
The written comment period for the rule would end on April 30.