I grew up in Lancaster County, and generations of my family have called the land under Kreider Farms Dairy our home since 1736. I’m fortunate to be part of a community that cares so much about our agricultural heritage and whose members work to be good environmental stewards.
Every farmer I know wants to tackle the real environmental threat of livestock waste runoff. It’s a serious menace to Pennsylvania’s waterways and to the Chesapeake Bay.
That’s why it’s disappointing to hear the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection wants to transform local conservation districts to have them “police” the farmers who are working on this problem.
Not only are we working on this problem now, but we’ve had the technology to do so for nearly five years. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania has ignored our solution.
In July 2011 at Kreider Farms, we unveiled a groundbreaking new technology that protected local streams and the Chesapeake Bay from livestock waste. It also saved taxpayer money and had the potential to create a source of renewable energy and reusable water on farms.
Standing before state officials and the media, we demonstrated an advanced micro-aerobic digestion system by Bion Environmental Technologies that would have dramatically reduced runoff by treating animal waste on our farm — before the waste ever made it to local waterways. Bion’s Phase II plans at Kreider also would have created energy and water sources for the farm.
Imagine that: Farms could be completely self-reliant while virtually eliminating pathogens and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the impact of animal waste on local waterways.
In a livestock agricultural community like Lancaster County, it was a game-changer.
The technology of Bion and others in the marketplace is key to helping our commonwealth meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Chesapeake Bay initiative to reduce nutrients and sediment in the bay by 2017. If we don’t meet the federal mandate, state taxpayers are facing a multibillion-dollar cleanup bill.
But now Bion’s facility has been shuttered, and the reason is simple: The commonwealth refused to create a competitive bid process for verified nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient credits, as it does for many other commodities. Competitive bidding is a strategy used throughout federal, state and local governments to procure the lowest-cost goods and services. The credits would be sold to meet the federal mandate.
What happened? The Department of Environmental Protection believes state government — not the private sector — can solve this problem. The farming community disagrees, and we are not the only ones.
A 2013 report by the nonpartisan state Legislative Budget and Finance Committee found the cost to comply with the Chesapeake Bay mandates could be reduced by as much as 80 percent with a competitive bidding program engaging the private sector.
Before changing local conservation district officials from educators into police, state government needs to know that one thing hasn’t changed since that hot day in July 2011: The technology still works. Private sector businesses and farmers are ready to help solve this very public challenge in a more cost-effective manner for all Pennsylvanians.
Pennsylvania’s government-centered approach already has cost the commonwealth a host of ancillary environmental benefits. Systems such as Bion’s capture the nitrogen and nearly eliminate ammonia and manure odors we all smell in the vicinity of farmland — key goals for the state's proposed Growing Greener III program.
It isn’t too late for Pennsylvania, our local waterways and the Chesapeake Bay. Pennsylvania needs to realize that government can’t do this alone.
Heavily fining working farmers isn’t the answer. Farmers are ready to partner on this issue, clean up one of Pennsylvania’s greatest environmental challenges and save taxpayers billions in the process.
Ron Kreider is the owner of Kreider Farms Dairy in Lancaster County. He is a member of the Coalition for an Affordable Bay Solution policy committee. For more information, visit affordablebaysolutions.org.