Environmental Risk

Federal Regulations

Clean Air Act (CAA) - The CAA does not regulate odors but sets standards for the components of odors. Amended last in 1990, the CAA requires the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to establish minimum National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). States have the primary responsibility to assure compliance. State regulations are required to be as strict as the federal government guidelines, if not stricter and must meet standards for six pollutants: particulate matter (PM), sulfur dioxide, ozone, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and lead.

Air Quality Requirements -

Farmers may potentially face two different types of air quality requirements under the CAA:


  1. Title V of the CAA requires any source that emits or has the potential to emit 100 tons per year or more of any of the previously indicated six pollutants, to obtain an operating permit.
  2. Due to emissions of hydrogen sulfide and ammonia farmers could be subject to hazardous substance release reporting requirements as part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) Section 103.

Although the exact details are still being worked out as how to apply the Clean Air Act to agriculture there are certain practices that farmers can adopt now to help prepare them for future regulations:

  • Implement odor and air quality acceptable management practices. Currently air quality complaints mostly concern odor. Although the CAA has no application to odor problems, in most states nuisance laws apply.
  • Talk to your neighbors. Encourage them to come to you first with their air quality and odor concerns instead of regulatory officials. Address the issue politely and try to work out a plan that is acceptable for both parties.

Clean Water Act (CWA) - prohibits the discharge of any pollutants into the nation’s waters without a permit. The primary objective of the CWA is to reduce or eliminate water pollution in the nation’s waters and meet standards for recreational activities such as swimming and fishing.

CWA established water quality standards and oil spill liabilities which requires producers to promptly notify state DEP offices of any oil spill.


Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) - protects public drinking water supplies from contamination through use of established maximum contaminant levels for groundwater. The SDWA has a direct regulatory impact on providers of public drinking water; although large operations may indirectly be subject to SDWA requirements.

In agriculture, chemicals (such as pesticides and herbicides) have the greatest potential to affect public drinking water. Farmers can minimize the impact of agricultural chemicals through the use of appropriate management practices. These include:

  • Fertility or nutrient management
  • Integrated pest management
  • Improvement of subsurface drainage
  • Erosion control
  • Retention ponds

Good fertilizer management for producers will include the following:

  • Determination of correct type and amount of fertilizer required to sustain yields
  • Proper handling and storage of fertilizers
  • Acceptable disposal of fertilizer wastes
  • Safe cleanup of fertilizer spills

Environmental impacts from improper fertilizer management can be reduced by employing the following practices:

  • Base fertilizer programs on crop nutritional requirements determined through testing and cropping histories.
  • Nutrients should be applied prior to the period of rapid uptake.
  • Record all applications, conditions practices, and crop results to assess the effectiveness of your fertilization program.
  • Avoid applying fertilizers during periods of heavy rainfall to avoid surface runoff of nutrients.
  • Maintain a 30 foot buffer zone around your well site; if this is not attainable on an existing farm protect the well by constructing berms or diverting surface water flows away from the well. Cover the well head.
  • Observe a buffer zone along all surface water courses.
  • Plant cover crops to protect and improve the soil resource of your cash crop. Cover crops improve soil structure and fertility while reducing ponding of surface water, erosion, runoff, and leaching into groundwater.

Additionally, producers should mix and store pesticides or fertilizers on an impermeable surface and away from water, calibrate equipment properly, use proper methods for application such as avoiding application of pesticides when soils are frozen, on windy days, or during peak periods of runoff.

Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation & Liability Act (CERCLA) - law established in 1980 which controls problems associated with abandoned/inactive hazardous waste. The EPA defines “hazardous waste substance” to include tires, batteries, farm chemicals, pesticides and used oil. There are exemptions from CERCLA; to learn what these exemptions are contact your state Department of Environmental Protection or the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Information on the CERCLA list of hazardous substances regulated by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry can be found at: http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/clist.html


Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) - Established in 1972 and administered by the EPA. Under FIFRA:

  • it is illegal for any person to use a registered pesticide in any manner inconsistent with its labeling,
  • certification of applicators for restricted-use pesticides is required,
  • commercial applicators are required to keep and maintain routine operational records containing the kinds, amounts, uses, dates, and places of application of restricted-use pesticides,
  • records of restricted-use pesticides must be maintained and kept for a minimum of 2 years from date of application and records must be recorded within 14 days of application,
  • pesticides must be disposed of in a manner consistent with labeling.

It is recommended that producers follow their local, state, and federal laws and regulations regarding the proper use, storage, and disposal of pesticides before their land application.

Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA) - is designed to protect endangered and threatened species. ESA makes it illegal for anyone to “take” a species that has been designated by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) as endangered. “Taking” a species includes:

  • harassing
  • harming
  • pursuing
  • hunting
  • shooting
  • wounding
  • killing
  • trapping
  • capturing
  • collecting

a listed plant, fish, or animal. The ESA makes it illegal for anyone to import, take, possess, deliver, or transport an endangered species. The ESA is a powerful tool in the protection of wildlife and its habitat. Producers must be aware of any endangered species existing on their property and must take steps to ensure that activities do not harm those species. Violation of the ESA statute can result in serious criminal and civil penalties.

Other Statutes Affecting Agriculture

Many states have statutes that have the potential of impacting agricultural operations and their relationship to the environment. For information on statutes affecting producers in your state, contact your local county extension agent, state department of agriculture, or check out the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) website which contains a summary of environmental laws that affect agriculture in your respective states at: http://www2.nasda.org/NR/exeres/EF8521A6-FC8B-4270-B67C-F8233A3C94D7.htm

Management Practices

Agricultural pollutants that have the potential to effect the environment include sediment, nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous are of primary concern), pesticides, pathogens, and salts. The implementation of management practices can help farmers prevent contribution of pollutants to the environment. The following list are some of the more common concerns of agricultural producers and management practices that may be used to address them.

I. Nutrient Management

Conservation crop rotation


Nutrient record-keeping

Soil testing (nitrate, others)

II. Erosion and Sediment Control

Conservation crop rotation

Field borders

Fertilizer storage

Critical area planting

Residue management (no-till, strip-till, mulch-till, ridge-till)

III. Fertilizer and Pesticide Management

Pesticide and fertilizer training

Safe disposal of waste

Avoid overuse

Do not apply fertilizers before heavy rainfall or in windy conditions

Calibrate and maintain pesticide application equipment

Pesticide and fertilizer application plans and records should be kept up to date

In case of spill, contact your local extension service, farm bureau, or Department of Agriculture

The following risk management practices address how to avoid drift of pesticides.

  • Choose non-volatile pesticides
  • Apply the largest effective droplet size
  • Use the lowest practical pressure
  • Choose nozzles that produce large numbers of large particles
  • Place nozzles with the air stream not across it
  • Apply as close as possible to the target
  • Use a drift control additive
  • Do not apply when wind, temperature, or humidity are unfavorable

Environmental concerns will continue to be in the forefront of the public mind. Think about your production practices as they relate to the environment around your operation. Determine how the rest of the public might view your actions, the political implications of environmental management, and how a regulator may view your farm.

Farm Service Agency

Farmers in need of assistance in maintaining an environmentally and legally sound farm can seek help from several programs offered by the USDA.

Conservation Reserve Program (CRP): FSA program that compensates farmers for focusing on reducing runoff, improving water quality, and enhancing wildlife habitat on fragile farmland. Example: Planting permanent vegetation on sections of farmland susceptible to erosion.

Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP): Participants receive financial incentives through the FSA to voluntarily enroll in ten to fifteen year CREP contracts. CREP is designed to reduce harmful agricultural water sources in an effort to improve water quality and reduce water treatment costs. Contact FSA county offices because there are specified areas and regulations for each state. Examples:

  • Retiring erodible cropland and planting protective vegetation
  • Planting buffers along streams/rivers to filter out phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediments
  • Planting native grasses and vegetation where current erodible land is to improve water, soil, and wildlife habitat

Emergency Conservation Program (ECP): FSA program that gives funds that can be used for debris removal, shaping lands, or creating water sources during droughts. This program is subject to approval.


  • Reusing irrigated water

Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP): Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) program that addresses identified conservation concerns and provides farmers with cost-share and incentive payments. 


  • Attempting appropriate biological controls for pest management to reduce pesticide use
  • Constructing a channel on a downhill side to intercept surfaced runoff water

Nutrient Management Planning

In recent years, many agriculturalists have begun to use a term called “nutrient management planning”. This refers in the broadest sense to the quantification and best utilization of all nutrient/fertilizer sources that are land applied for a given crop. This includes any organic sources such as manure of all types, municipal leaves, organic fertilizers, biosolids, legume nitrogen credits and green manure crops; also included are all sources of inorganic, commercial fertilizers.

The base line of nutrient management is a good, representative, soil sample. This means that every individual field or management unit is soil sampled separately. If you have one contiguous field of 50 acres, but have it split in the middle and plant two differing crops in each half, then these should be separate soil samples. Any farm lanes, fence lines, hedgerows, etc which break a field into multiple parts, should be used to separate soil sample units.

Once a soil sample has been taken, and analyzed by a reputable laboratory, the planning begins. Yield goals for the crops to be grown are determined by past farmer records, FSA records, or other acceptable means. These yield goals are then used to determine the total crop nutrient needs based on the soil test levels for each management unit. After the total nutrient needs are determined, the source of the nutrients can be established. For most vegetable farms, this is strictly commercial fertilizer, but, nitrogen credits may be given for past leguminous crops such as soybeans, or plowing down a rye crop. Each of these sources will be quantified, and final recommendations will be derived.

Nutrient management planning has been a hot topic lately, particularly with regard to the environmental effects. Developing a NMP should not just be looked at as a formality to comply with environmental regulations, but rather most farms should benefit by reducing fertilizer input costs. These can only be achieved by collecting the BEST data for the farm, and MAINTAINING records of nutrient applications, yields, and soil test data. Many farms benefit by having proper blends of fertilizers made, which usually cost less by not paying for additional unnecessary nutrients. These blends can also be of a higher nutrient content for those needed, which will reduce the overall volume of material that needs to be spread thus reducing shipping costs.

Some areas of the northeast have Phosphorus (P) impaired watersheds, in which a portion of the NMP relates to the P Index used for the area. Every P Index is slightly different, but all try to approximate the risk of P entering surface waters. Essentially, these indices reflect three factors, the source of the nutrient, and the ability of the nutrient to be transported to a waterway, and the management strategies employed to minimize the nutrient transportation. For example, if a particular field were to have a very high soil P content (High source), but the field is flat (<2% slope) and is >1/4 mile from any surface water (Low transport), and if no P is applied (or applied shortly before planting and plowed in) (Good management) then the risk of P entering a waterway should be minimal.

Nutrient Management Planning can be time consuming in its initial phases. The time needed to develop a plan can be significant, but after the initial stages, record keeping will be the biggest challenge. Over the last few years, more and more plans have been developed as farmers seek to become better stewards of the land. These plans should benefit both the farmer, and the environment, and should help to better manage the operation as a whole. The following is an example plan, which will give you an idea of the scope of an NMP. Not all parts are included, but the major components are covered. Please note that many vegetable buyers will not purchase produce that have utilized organic fertilizer sources; check with your buyer before using such materials.