By Jared Strong
A Clayton County livestock facility is again seeking approval from state regulators for how it will dispose of the manure it produces, and there is continued opposition.
“So this appears to be deja vu all over again,” said Wallace Taylor, an attorney for the Sierra Club of Iowa. “The problem is that Supreme Beef’s operation does not fit the regulations.”
Taylor on Monday spoke against the cattle operation’s request for approval from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for its nutrient management plan, which proposes to disperse its cattle manure on farm fields.
The facility has been controversial because of its 39-million-gallon manure storage basin that is situated close to the headwaters of one of Iowa’s premier trout streams, Bloody Run Creek.
Further, it is located in an area with porous geology, which means a leak has an increased potential to contaminate groundwater.
The 11,600-cattle facility has been plagued for years with legal troubles, starting in 2019 when its owners sued their business partners for failing to construct an anaerobic digester than would produce natural gas from the manure.
And earlier this year, a district court judge nullified a previous plan to manage the manure from the site, which was initially approved in 2021. Judge Scott Rosenberg said that plan was approved with “illogical interpretations of the statutes.”
“It is odd to approve a manure storage system that is banned from confinement operations due to the danger of spills and leaks into the porous bedrock,” Rosenberg said.
The livestock facility has continued to operate and has kept its manure on site, said Kelli Book, a DNR attorney. Its owners submitted a nutrient management plan earlier this year that they later withdrew, after several people and environmental groups challenged whether it had ample farmland for field application.
Manure from livestock facilities is often used as a fertilizer for farm fields and is typically applied to those fields after harvest or in the spring before planting.
The facility’s new nutrient management plan was adjusted to address the previous concerns. The Monday hearing about the plan was meant to elicit public comments about the proposal, which will factor into the DNR’s pending decision to approve or deny the plan. It’s unclear when that will happen.
“That earthen lagoon, I think, has to go,” Taylor said. “And that’s been the crux of the problem all the way through.”
Supreme Beef’s cattle operation is the largest in Clayton County, according to DNR records. No one from Supreme Beef spoke at the hearing but two nearby farmers on Monday urged the department to approve the plan.
“These rules can be ambiguous and often difficult to interpret for Iowa’s livestock farmers,” said Suzanne Shirbroun, a Clayton County farmer. She added: “Supreme Beef is a good steward of the land and benefits the community. I strongly support the business and its operators to grow and modernize to the benefit of those who live, work and farm in Clayton County.”