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Friday, April 11th, 2008

Complaints filed on local farmer for spreading manure improperly

By Nancy Allen
A local farmer is going to get a lecture about spreading manure after two complaints were issued within a week about manure from his farm in side ditches and on the road.
Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) board member Rick Muhlenkamp told SWCD board members on Thursday that he intends to speak to Luke Keller, president of LDT Keller Farms LLC, 841 Burkettsville-St. Henry Road, Fort Recovery, about manure management practices. SWCD technicians spent several hours investigating two complaints at his farm last month.
The first complaint against Keller Farms was reported March 18 to the SWCD office by an Ohio Department of Agriculture inspector who was in the area. Technician Theresa Dirksen said Luke Keller drove a manure spreader in a side ditch so he could sling dairy manure into his farm field, which was too wet to enter with equipment.
Tests on water from the field and a nearby ditch completed on site the next morning (after a night of rain) showed nutrient levels did not warrant a violation. Other water tests taken by an ODA official were sent to a lab and those results are not yet available, Dirksen said.
The second complaint was made five days later, on March 23, saying manure was applied along a ditch and some manure was on the road. Though the setback for spreading manure away from the ditch was not followed, the complaint did not produce a violation, Dirksen said, because there was no runoff.
Luke Keller told The Daily Standard this morning that both complaints were dealing with the same incident. He said he applied only two loads of manure that day and specifically worked the manure into the ground, through tilling, within 18 hours to prevent runoff.
Keller said he had to haul away manure that day because his pit was full, and he chose to haul out as little as possible. He also said there could not have been much on the road, as he had not heard that complaint before.
Dirksen said the farm has a comprehensive nutrient management plan - a document that tells how to best spread manure to keep it from causing pollution, including keeping amounts to appropriate levels, when and when not to spread it and following setbacks from creeks and open ditches.
Though Keller was not following best management practices for spreading manure, he did not commit any violations from the standpoint of the SWCD office, Dirksen said. The only violation that may come from the event is if the ODA's water quality test shows elevated phosphorous and nitrates above acceptable levels.
This isn't the first time the farm has had manure complaints. LDT Keller Farms was fined $1,500 in Celina Municipal Court for a stream litter charge investigated in November 2006, court records show. Records also show that Keller has prior stream litter violations from 1993 and 1998. He was fined $150 and court costs for the 1998 charge and paid a $250 bond for the 1993 charge.
The ODA has been working with the farm officials to help it become a state-permitted facility as Keller indicated he may expand his dairy herd to the size requiring state and federal permits (700).
Technician Matt Heckler said it would be best if the operation becomes a state-permitted facility because then it would be forced to follow stricter regulations and the state could monitor it better with inspections.
Currently there is nothing the SWCD office can do except offer suggestions to Keller farm officials to improve manure management practices.
Under personnel matters, soil and water board members Thursday authorized SWCD staff to work four, 10-hour days instead of five, 8-hour days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Technicians, who are busiest in the summer doing field work associated with installing tile projects, grass waterways, wetlands and filter strips, said they felt the schedule would allow them to work later in the day and get more done.
"This would be basically during summer when construction is going on and contractors are working later days," Heckler said. "They'll be out there 'til dark."
Board member said the new summer work schedule would be tried on a trial basis, after which they would evaluate and decide whether or not to continue it next year. A schedule of 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., or 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. for technicians was discussed, but no formal decision was made.
Heckler and Dirksen also would not be able to take their one day a week off on the same day, board members and staff agreed, and regular office hours would stay the same at 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
The next SWCD meeting is 8 a.m. May 8 at the SWCD office in the Mercer County Central Services Building in Celina.
- Daily Standard editor Kelly Braun contributed to this story.
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