You’re Not a CAFO? Don’t Become One

If you operate a farm in West Virginia, your enterprise probably is not a “concentrated animal feeding operation” (CAFO). If you want to avoid that regulatory designation in the future, you have to become proactive now.

Very few West Virginia farms should be designated as CAFOs. Unfortunately, many farms could fall under that rating if their owners do not heed water quality standards for feeding and confining animals.

Producers in the state’s eastern counties are affected by legislation regulating CAFOs and by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay “pollution diet.”

But no one can be certain how these recent regulatory actions will affect most of the state’s agriculture, which is dominated by pasture-based operations. However, producers can be proactive with their management to avoid any unnecessary actions by state or federal regulatory agencies.

Number of Animals Is Not the Issue

The issue is not counting the number of animals on your land. The issue is protecting water quality,

  • Check your practices that affect water quality.
  • If your management practices keep your pasture-based operation from qualifying as an animal feeding operation (AFO), then it cannot be designated as a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO).
  • Only CAFOs need to apply for a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit from environmental officials.

So, the most proactive measure you can take is to take steps to ensure that your operation cannot be defined as an AFO.

What Is an AFO?

An AFO is a pasture-based operation that has a lot or facility used to stable, confine, or feed animals for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period.

The number of animals does not matter. But days and concurrent vegetative growth are issues. A winter feeding area or operation will be considered an AFO if vegetation is not sustained while animals are confined over a 45-day period even if the site has vegetative growth during the growing season.

Where Do Your Animals Feed?

Assess your operation to be sure that you are not an AFO. Pay particular attention to winter feeding areas.

  • Are animals confined in any field for more than 45 days a year? (The days do not have to be consecutive.) If the answer is “yes,” you may want to change some management practices to avoid being designated as an AFO.
  • Do the animals spend time in any field that has no vegetation? If the answer is “yes,” consider changing these management practices, too.
  • Is the vegetation destroyed? If the answer is “yes,” make changes. Do not allow animals to destroy vegetation in an area that could be considered a confinement.
  • Do animals have free access to pastures? If the answer is “no,” make changes. To be proactive, keep gates open so animals have free access to pastures.

Protect Surface Water

Also consider your operation’s connection to surface water. Making simple fixes can help keep large volumes of clean water from coming into contact with manure before reaching a stream.

For example:

  • Put diversions and ditches upslope of barnyards.
  • Place gutters on barns.
  • Use off-stream watering practices and hardened stream-crossings.

These are just a few of many best-management practices that you might use to limit water quality impacts.

The Natural Resources Conservation Service, West Virginia Conservation Agency, and local conservation districts are assisting producers with technical or financial assistance for such proactive projects.

Prepared by Joshua W. Faulkner, agricultural engineering specialist, WVU Extension Service.