Confined Livestock Operations Account for Majority of Chesapeake Bay Area’s Farmland With Applied Manure

An analysis of livestock production in the Chesapeake Bay area by Stacy Sneeringer of the USDA Economic Research Service suggests that policies addressing manure nutrient discharges from small and medium-sized concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) may be needed if larger reductions in Bay nutrient pollution are desired.
calendar icon 29 April 2014
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USDA Economic Research Service

Excessive flows of nutrients into the Chesapeake Bay can damage the Bay’s environment, yielding coastal dead zones, fish kills and impaired drinking water supplies. This can lead to health risks and economic costs for those who use the bay’s waters or live nearby.

Agriculture is a main contributor to nutrient run-off, responsible for 38 per cent of the Bay’s nitrogen and 45 per cent of phosphorus loadings. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), land application of livestock manure accounts for about half of these agricultural loadings.

Chesapeake Bay States have focused on greater oversight of the manure management at large CAFOs, which are farms that confine animals and have limited acreage on which to spread manure. In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, approximately 70 per cent of large and medium CAFOs produce poultry, while nearly three-quarters of small CAFOs are dairy farms.

While estimates of land-applied manure’s impact on Bay pollution exist, the portion attributable to specific types of farming operations is less clear. Information on which livestock operations are most responsible for manure applications could help the Chesapeake Bay States better target scarce policy resources.

Using 2007 Census of Agriculture data and methods developed by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, farms were characterised according to their livestock confinement and size, crop acreage and acreage to which manure and fertiliser were applied.

CAFOs cover 65 per cent of manure-applied acres but constitute 16 per cent of farms in the Chesapeake Bay, 2007
OperationsPercentage of operationsPercentage of cropland and pasturelandPercentage of fertilised acresPercentage of manure-applied acres
All 100 100 100 100
No livestock -- Less than 100 acres of cropland 27 9 4 2
No livestock -- 100 acres or more of cropland 5 20 32 9
Some livestock but not likely to be confined 52 40 26 23
Small CAFOs 12 21 24 41
Medium CAFOs 3 7 10 18
Large CAFOs 1 2 4 6
CAFO = concentrated animal feeding operation.
Source: USDA, Economic Research Service using data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture.

Although they constitute only 16 per cent of all agricultural operations and cover only 29 per cent of cropland and pastureland in Chesapeake Bay watershed counties, CAFOs control 65 per cent of the acres on which manure is applied. Crop-only producers cover one-third of fertilised acreage and only a small percentage of manure-applied acres.

Large CAFOs – confined operations with at least 1,000 cows or 10,000 broiler chickens – account for approximately one per cent of farms in the bay watershed and only six per cent of manure-applied acreage.

On the other hand, small and medium CAFOs account for about 15 per cent of the watershed’s farms and 59 per cent of its manure-applied acreage.

These operations are generally not regulated under CAFO manure management rules. This suggests that policies addressing manure nutrient discharges from small and medium CAFOs may be needed if larger reductions in Bay nutrient pollution are desired.

April 2014

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