DES MOINES, Iowa — Iowa livestock farmers concerned about upcoming inspections of farms throughout the state got some advice and a helping hand from the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.

But farmers can take steps to lessen the tension before, during and after a farm inspection, according to attorneys for a private law firm and for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation.

“I don’t see any problems there,” said Eldon McAfee, an attorney for Beving, Swanson and Forrest, a Des Moines-based private law firm that handles agricultural law.

McAfee and Chris Gruenhagen, government relations counsel for the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, along with Ken Hessenius from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, were the guests on a webinar about the livestock farm inspections sponsored by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.

The coalition is a group that assists farmers with on-farm practices and confidential farm assessments to implement best management practices and helps farmers interpret state and federal rules and regulations, as well as assist in neighbor relations.

The coalition includes the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, the Iowa Corn Growers Association, the Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, the Iowa Soybean Association, the Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy.

While the advice came at the end of the webinar, McAfee said the DNR has worked with farmers in the past as far as scheduling goes.

“My suggestion if DNR comes calling and you say go get a search warrant? No. I don’t think that’s a good idea for anyone involved. You don’t want to be the subject of a search warrant. In the 20-plus years I’ve been doing this, I’ve never had to advise a client to tell DNR to get a search warrant,” he said.

“DNR has always been generally good to work with on inspections. For these routine-type of inspections, they’re required to give notice and schedule it with you. I don’t foresee any problems there.”

The reason for the inspections stems from a work plan agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 and the Iowa DNR on Sept. 11.

As part of the work plan, the DNR was required to identify concentrated animal feeding operations that discharge or do not have a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

“That really is the meat of the plan,” Hessenius said.

He added that the DNR also was required to provide to EPA an inventory of animal feeding operations in the state and to locate and identify unknown large and medium-sized animal feeding operations.

“We are required to do a comprehensive survey of all the large CAFOs by EPA definition. Those are, primarily for hogs, anything over 2,500 head and for beef cattle it’s over 1,000 head. Turkeys are 55,000 or more, and chickens would be 125,000 or more and 700 mature dairy cattle, so that’s the large category,” he said.

The medium-sized CAFO is defined as 300 to 999 beef cattle, 200 to 699 mature dairy cattle, 750 to 2,499 finishing hogs, 16,500 to 54,999 turkeys and 37,500 to 124,999 broiler chickens.

The work plan requires 20 percent of the farms to be inspected annually.

“We estimate approximately 8,500 facilities in Iowa — that’s probably a low estimate,” Hessenius said.

The agency also is required to inspect 20 percent of permitted NPDES facilities annually.

“Most of the inspections will be onsite inspections. However, some of them, depending on the size, will have desktop evaluations where we’ll look at those facilities remotely, and if they are not close to a water of the U.S. or some other factors, those facilities may end up getting only a desktop evaluation,” Hessenius said.

McAfee said there is a priority list for the farm inspections, but that other circumstances could affect what farms the DNR visits and when.

“Top, if you had a spill or a release or what the work plan calls a legally sufficient complaint, then you are first priority and you should be at the top of the list. Next are the large open feedlot CAFOs and the medium-sized open lots, including the confinement operations. Fourth are the large above-10,000 animal unit confinement operations. Then at the bottom of the assessment priority list are the medium-sized confinement operations,” he said.

“But DNR has indicated they will be doing these NPDES inspections at the same time they may be doing other inspections, so it does not necessarily mean that you are way down on the list.”

McAfee and Gruenhagen said the agency will be reviewing all publicly-available data for the desktop inspections of the farms and to see if farms require an onsite inspection.

“They are going to be reviewing their file. They are going to be reviewing any publicly-available aerial satellite imagery,” McAfee said. “To give you some idea of what they are able to look at, Google Earth has publicly-available databases of photographs.”

They displayed one such photograph of a cattle feedlot in Iowa with the GPS coordinates blanked out. The photo showed the farmyard and farm residence in detail, as well as single bales of hay and each animal in the feedlot.

“As a producer you are not going to know when DNR is conducting the desktop assessment, but on Google Earth, there are several years of data they can review. It’s not just the current or most recent year,” McAfee said.

He advised farmers to take a look at that data themselves.

“You want to look at your own farm, what you can see on Google Earth on your own farm. Do drive-bys on your own farm. What are the kinds of things you can see? What kinds of things need to be addressed?” he said.

Gruenhagen recommended that farmers who may not know where their weak spots in an inspection would be contact the coalition.

“Feel free to call the coalition. They do personal farm visits and can red flag things and get you in touch with the right consultant to help fix any issues you may have,” she said.

Gruenhagen said once an inspection has been scheduled, it’s important for the producer to accompany the inspector around on the farm.

“You do want to schedule it at a time when you can be there. If you have a hired man, this is not something you want your hired man to handle for you. You want to be there yourself because you are the one who knows about your farm and you are the one who can answer questions for DNR,” she said.

In addition, she advised producers to have their animal unit capacity number ready for inspectors and to make sure that all records are onsite and up to date.

“The key is to stay with the inspector to observe what they are observing. While they are there, stay with them so you can answer questions, observe what they are observing so you are fully aware of what’s being looked at and to clarify anything, if there seems to be any question or misunderstanding,” McAfee said.