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Published September 12, 2011, 05:40 AM

Is hay a pollutant?

An outspoken cattleman, at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency, says the agency has declared hay to be a pollutant, at least in his own case. Mike Callicrate, a Kansas cattle feeder and member of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, also says the EPA is working to drive small- and mid-sized feedlots out of business for the benefit of meatpackers and big corporate feedlot operators.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

An outspoken cattleman, at odds with the Environmental Protection Agency, says the agency has declared hay to be a pollutant, at least in his own case.

Mike Callicrate, a Kansas cattle feeder and member of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America, also says the EPA is working to drive small- and mid-sized feedlots out of business for the benefit of meatpackers and big corporate feedlot operators.

“I’m angry about this. I’m not going to let this go,” he says of the EPA case against him.

EPA officials in the organization’s Kansas City, Kan. office, say they’re simply doing their job and enforcing the federal Clean Water Act and the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.

EPA officials, asked by Agweek about Callicrate’s claim that EPA has targeted hay as a pollutant, say that silage and distiller’s grains, as well as hay, were found in a feedstock storage area at Callicrate’s operation,

Both silage and distiller’s grains have higher potential for leaching pollutants than hay, the EPA says.

Callicrate, asked by Agweek if the EPA had declared hay to be pollutant, says the EPA would be “foolish” to do so. He also says that agency is making such a claim in his case.

Silage and distiller’s grain were present at the feedlot, he says.

He describes the two as “basic food sources” to which his operation added no chemicals. Further, “not a drop of water” that discharges from his operation has ever ended up in the nearby Republican River, he says.

“It’s a nonissue,” he says of any potential environmental risk created by discharged water from his operation.

Violations found

The EPA, in a written compliance order dated Aug. 15, notified Callicrate Feeding Co. of St. Francis, Kan., that “it appears there have been significant violations of the Clean Water Act” at the Kansas operation.

The EPA says it found four counts of violations at the business: failures to maintain adequate records, failures to maintain adequate storage capacity, failures to meet nutrient management plan requirements and failures to conduct all production area operations within areas that are controlled in a manner capable of preventing pollution, according to EPA’s compliance order.

Callicrate Feeding Co. failed to operate the feedstock storage area within an area that’s controlled in a manner capable of preventing pollution, which violates the Clean Water Act and the feedlot’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, the EPA says.

The EPA also says in the compliance order that Callicrate should be working with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to make sure that he’s in compliance with all state and federal requirement. The EPA tells Callicrate in the compliance order that it’s evaluating whether a penalty is appropriate.

The line about a potential penalty is fairly standard in such cases and is meant to provide additional incentive for feedlot operators to comply with the law, says Dan Breedlove, the EPA attorney assigned to the matter.

Callicrate says his feedlot has a long history of working well with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Callicrate Feeding Co.’s reputation was unfairly attacked when the EPA on Aug. 22 issued a press release announcing that Callicrate Feeding Co. and five other concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, had received compliance orders involving the Clean Water Act, he says.

Such press releases aren’t unusual, according to the EPA’s Kansas City office. It has issued press releases involving compliance orders to a number of Midwestern concentrated animal feeding operations over the past year or so, according to information from the EPA.

About 10 days after the Kansas City EPA office issued its press release on Callicrate and the five other CAFOs, R-CALF issued its own press release that claimed that the EPA had targeted hay as a pollutant.

Big operation or not?

Callicrate, who is permitted to handle up to 12,000 cattle at one time in his feedlot, had about 3,200 cattle there when the EPA inspected the facility in February, the agency says.

The EPA defines a “large CAFO” as having 1,000 or more cattle, so Callicrate’s operation is not a small one, say Breedlove and Steven Pollard, an EPA compliance officer.

The EPA has sent compliance orders to feedlots both bigger and smaller than Callicrate’s operation, Pollard says.

Callicrate says some corporate-owned feedlots have the capacity to handle 100,000 or more cattle and that the EPA doesn’t appear to be going after those feedlots, which he calls “mega-feedlots.”

He acknowledges that his feedlot probably hasn’t met the EPA’s record-keeping requirements. But meeting those requirements is expensive for small- and mid-sized operations, which have far less need for such records than big feedlots, he says.

Nonetheless, his feedlot is considering hiring a professional consultant to help it keep records, he says.

Picking on the little guys?

Callicrate has a long history of fighting what he sees as injustice in the cattle industry and agribusiness in general, according to published reports. Through the years, he’s taken on the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the big four meatpackers and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, among other organizations.

“I stand up for family farms,” Callicrate says.

Both Callicrate and Bill Bullard, chief executive officer of R-CALF USA, says the EPA’s compliance order to Callicrate is part of an effort by the federal government to force out small- and mid-sized feedlots.

“It’s the path of least resistance,” Bullard says. “It’s just easier to go after the smaller operators. Let the smaller operators go by the wayside.”

The government is reluctant to take on big corporate feedlots, so regulators go after smaller operations that have fewer resources with which to defend themselves, Bullard says.

The compliance order against Callicrate is relatively recent, and R-CALF USA still is discussing what steps it might take to help him, Bullard says.

R-CALF USA is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to “ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle industry.” It has members in 46 states, primarily cow/calf operators, cattle backgrounders and feedlot owners.

Callicrate says anyone interested in his feedlot is welcome to tour the operation and judge for themselves whether it poses an environmental risk.

Information on arranging a tour: www.callicratecattleco.com.

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