By Nancy Allen
The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) is awaiting the results of water tests before it can determine whether a layer hen farm in Darke County is exempt from a manure pollution violation.
Bill Schwaderer, ODA spokesman, said it would take weeks rather than months before the results are received.
Kevin Elder, director of ODA's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program, said it appears the farmers did everything required of them prior to manure-laden runoff from the farm getting into Fort Creek and the Wabash River in Mercer County after heavy rains on Aug. 27 and 28.
The ODA water testing will be looking at the levels of nitrates, ammonia and phosphates, Elder said. The farm at 1085 Union City Road, owned by Mark Lochtefeld and operated by Willie Lochtefeld, reportedly has about 186,600 chickens. ODA also is looking into what caused an unusual yellow color in the water, Elder said, adding that it may be attributed to a dye division of wildlife officials use to track manure runoff events to their sources.
ODA-permitted farms, such as Lochtefeld's, can be exempt from Federal Clean Water Act standards and citations if the farm operator can show that best management practices -- including how and in what amount the manure was applied, if setbacks were followed and checking the weather forecast for rain -- were followed. Permitted farms are required to keep accurate documentation on many aspects of operation, including manure management. A passerby reported seeing dark-colored water in the creek and river around noon Aug. 29, said Mercer County Wildlife Officer Ryan Garrison, who initially investigated the incident. No fish kill reportedly resulted, Garrison and Elder said.
Elder said it looks like the manure may have gotten into the farm field's tile system before entering Fort Creek and then the Wabash River just west of Fort Recovery.
"They did everything as they were supposed to have done it as it sits so far," Elder said. "They applied approximately the rate they were supposed to and they worked it into the ground. It's difficult to determine if setbacks were followed, but it appears to be."
Elder said the manure spread on the fields was a "small amount" that the farmers had cleaned out of their buildings, and soil tests indicated it was all right to put it there. Most of the farm's chicken manure is brokered to other farms, he said.
ODA is working with the Ohio EPA and the division of wildlife on the investigation.
Elder said the farm has never been in any trouble before over noncompliance issues. The facility was first permitted with the Ohio EPA in 1981, when that agency operated the state's permitting program for large livestock operations. ODA took over the farm's permits on Nov. 21, 2003, Elder said.
"They tried to do everything by the book, but Mother Nature doesn't cooperate all the time," Elder said.