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Pests, regulations threaten ag bounty

FARGO, N.D. -- With an excellent, high-value crop in the bin in 2010, farmers are starting to look ahead to their 2011 prospects. The stakes are higher for protecting what they've gained, whether those threats be from insect and disease pests or ...

Ag show
Lionel Olson, North Dakota State University area Extension Service area cropping systems specialist (right, in white) based at Langdon, N.D., is surrounded by Northern Ag Expo-goers, getting a glimpse of soybean cyst nemadodes on samples. (Mikkel Pates / Agweek)

FARGO, N.D. -- With an excellent, high-value crop in the bin in 2010, farmers are starting to look ahead to their 2011 prospects. The stakes are higher for protecting what they've gained, whether those threats be from insect and disease pests or from new government regulations.

The recent Northern Ag Expo highlighted some of these challenges, and some of the greatest focus was on new Environmental Protection Agency rules that could cost money on the farm.

Dennis Duvall, a project manager for Dakota Environmental Inc. of Huron, S.D., was one of the speakers and panelists at the recent Northern Ag Expo in Fargo, N.D. Duvall is a specialist in helping farmers other businesses comply with EPA rules for "spill plans" and tank inspections.

Duvall, whose company has 10 employees, was created in the late 1990s to help companies with underground tanks. The company became aware of the new EPA emphasis above-ground tank systems in about 2002. The underlying laws have been on the books since the early 1970s, but new requirements seem to have proliferated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and perhaps because of a nation's renewed focus on security.

The EPA in 2008 made a concerted effort to make rules changes that affected the ag community. It initiated plans to enforce Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure plans for farmers and other companies. Dakota Environmental started working with some cooperatives and other commercial fuel companies for their "spill plans" in North Dakota and South Dakota about seven years ago. About a year and a half ago, it started focusing on farm clients.

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EPA investigators made some spot checks in South Dakota in 2009 and in North Dakota in 2010. Duvall says he isn't aware of any fines being levied against farmers in either state yet, but acknowledges that still may happen.

Starting last spring, Dakota Environmental put on some seminars on behalf of cooperatives across the state. Since then, it has since completed about 150 farm plans, with concentrations in the Minot and Devils Lake area of North Dakota.

There are two kinds of standards. First, any entity with more than 1,320 gallons of in total fuel storage -- that could include diesel, gasoline, fuel oil, etc. -- on a farm is required to complete a "spill plan." Any farm or entity with more than 10,000 gallons of storage is required to hire an engineer to do the study.

There have been many delays, but the latest deadline is for the plans and structures to be completed as of Nov. 10, 2011.

How it works

Typical farm clients for Dakota Environmental would pay roughly $800 for a site visit and spill plan (assuming the company can accumulate a group of clients in an area). Often, a spill structure can be installed for less than $10,000 for a typical commercial farm, but that depends on "where you're at and who you have do it," Duvall says.

Dakota Environmental staff first interviews the farmer to determine whether the existing fuel tank setup on the farm is likely to stay in place or be changed to be in compliance. Once the tank plan is established, Duvall and colleagues get an SPCC plan, signed off by an engineer, to tell the farmer what the farmer needs for a secondary containment size requirement. It's then up to the farmer to either build the structure or hire someone to do it.

In North Dakota and South Dakota, the structure can be as simple as a clay liner of a certain size and height. The structure must be designed to hold the entire contents of the largest tank in a facility, plus a "freeboard" to contain the rainfall from a maximum 25-year, 24-hour storm event for a locale. In eastern North Dakota and South Dakota, that might be 4 to 4.5 inches over a 24-hour period, Duvall says. (A Minnesota farmer would have to comply with stricter rules on clay structures, Duvall notes. That would require that the clay be tested for permeability, among other requirements.)

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Duvall says the other options for storage might include: 1) all-concrete liners, which might be 8 to 10 inches thick on the base, depending on load limits, 6 to 8 inches thick for sidewalls; 2) steel liners, similar to grain bin steel, with a membrane to form a sort of "bowl-type containment;" 3) steel box liners, made to enclose tanks and sometimes are installed for that purpose; or 4) double-walled tanks.

The clay liners are cheapest in the initial construction, Duvall says, but typically require more frequent inspections by a third party. A frequent inspection might be five years for example, while a less-frequent inspection schedule for steel structures might be 20 years, he says.

"Plus, earthen dikes require more space," he says.

Play by the rules

Duvall says there are limited resources for inspectors. There are eight inspectors in the whole Eighth District of the EPA, which includes North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and Utah. Only four of those inspectors are on the road, and Duvall says the initial enforcement concentration in North Dakota appears to have been in tank structures in the oil patch area of the northwest part of the states -- not necessarily on farms.

Regardless, Duvall thinks farmers need to adhere to the requirements.

"I think the insurance companies are going to play a greater role in this," he says.

He says if farmers that don't comply with EPA rules and somehow have a spill in their operations, they might find themselves without insurance coverage if they haven't complied with EPA rules.

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In a related matter, last October, the Natural Resources Conservation Service announced the agency's Environmental Quality Incentive Program funds process in a pilot program involving eight states. North Dakota is the only state in the area in the pilot program. The pilot program involves $3 million nationwide, among the eight states.

Duvall came to North Dakota a few days after the program was announced, met with NRCS officials to allow a "waiver" to get their spill plan done before they have official contracts in place with NRCS. That would allow for a more realistic construction schedule for 2011.

Under the pilot program, successful applicants would be eligible for up to $2,500 in spill plan costs and up to 60 percent of structure installation, with a cap of $10,000 per individual.

Duvall says the North Dakota State University Extension Service is using some of his PowerPoint information to provide information to farmers. Farmers also can contact his company at 800-888-0423. Duvall has a booth at the Prairie Grains Conference Dec. 9 in Grand Forks, N.D.

Soybean mold

Sam Markell, a North Dakota State University Extension Service plant pathologist with responsibility for disease information in broad leaf crops, says farmers saw a lot of white mold in 2010 and there is a buildup of inoculums that could attack the 2011 crop. He says spraying can help, but it must be timed at the onset of bloom in soybeans. He says the same white mold that attacks soybeans also attacks sunflower and dry beans.

In soybeans, white mold is most devastating when it rains 1 to 2 inches within a week or two before bloom. He says the problem is associated with moist canopies during blooming, with heavy and prolonged dew periods, and with temperatures from 59 to 75 degrees during bloom, and below 85 degrees.

He also says soybean cyst nematode is present in the region and it is important to soil-test for it to keep egg levels low.

"Soybean cyst nematodes is going to be our biggest issue very soon, and for the rest of the time we produce soybeans," he says.

He says the disease is caused by a parasitic worm. In soybeans, it can cause 15 to 30 percent reduction in yields before above-ground symptoms are present. The pest takes away nutrients, disrupts water uptake and interferes with nodulation and damages roots. The disease can be mistaken for iron chloroisis.

"Once you have it in your soil, you own it, you have it forever," he says.

Cyst nematode has been in the country since 1954 and was verified in Richland County in North Dakota in 2003. Other southeast counties have seen it since then. It may be spreading because of field flooding, or other transfers of soil from place to place with machinery.

Jon Stika, a National Resources Conservation Service area resource soil scientist and soil quality instructor, based in Dickinson, N.D., says farmers intent on breaking up Conservation Reserve Program land should consider how to do it properly.

He gave farmers a lesson in basic soil science, and said the best strategy is to try to farm so that the "soil food web" stays as healthy as possible. Keeping healthy soils add water infiltration, which stores water for crop production, reduces ponding and reduces drought stress.

Annual crops only leave green, healthy roots in the soil for a third of the year, but adding cover crops can keep the soil active with living roots, longer during the year. This offers microorganisms in the soil a more balanced, diversified diet to stay healthy. It keeps the soil covered, and preserves crop residue, yet cycles it. Crop rotation also add some diversity, he says. Legumes are especially helpful for the transition from CRP to cropping.

Related Topics: CROPSFAMILYLIVESTOCK
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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