Livestock Environmental Management Systems
by John Lawrence, Iowa Beef Center
A livestock Environmental Management System (EMS) is a systematic approach that identifies, corrects, and monitors the environmental performance of a livestock enterprise. It involves a continuous cycle of risk assessment, action planning, implementation, review, and improvement to fully integrate environmental responsibility into the business of farming. In a nutshell, it is a strategy to manage a farm for profits while incorporating environmental regulations and personal stewardship principles. It is not mandatory, nor is it a new regulation. Producers develop and implement their own EMS and self-check their implementation against their own plans and expectations.
Successful business plans start with a mission statement and involve a continuous process of management, including the following:
An EMS involves the same steps. Everything revolves around the producer’s Policy Statement, a commitment to regulator compliance, continuous improvement, and personal stewardship principles. The planning phase begins with a farm assessment, priority setting, and action plan. The producer then documents his or her implementation of the plan, monitors progress and corrects problems, reviews the plan periodically, and continues to work toward goals.
Experience in other industries has identified several benefits of an EMS. Companies with EMS improved their environmental performance in part because EMS helps companies meet regulatory compliance by keeping those regulations at the forefront and also because it helps companies implement their own stewardship principles and document the results. Producers have a strong stewardship ethic, and a formal EMS is an excellent way to document what they are already doing to protect and enhance the environment.
Experience from other industries also has taught us that an EMS can become very complex and burdensome to operate. But, it doesn’t have to be difficult. The challenge is striking the balance between what is practical to implement and economically feasibly to maintain while producing meaningful outcomes that are beneficial to the environment. The goal of the Iowa livestock EMS project is to develop a “functional” EMS that is easy to adopt and effective in environmental protection.
Iowa is pursuing a functional livestock EMS along two parallel tracks. First, two stakeholder meetings were held in March to discuss the EMS concept with producers, agencies, and organizations representing producers and environmental groups. These round table discussions featured examples of EMS activities in Iowa as well as a producer-led initiative in Ontario, Canada, that has reached more than 20,000 farms in 10 years.
Second, four EMS workshops for open beef feedlots were held in March. Extension field staff recruited the participants. Thirty-seven feedlots attended the two-part workshop and worked through a step-by-step guidebook on EMS development. At the first workshop, producers began developing their policy statements and discussed on-farm assessments. Before the second workshop, producers completed their policy statements and conducted assessments with extension staff. At the second workshop, they shared their policy statements, discussed the priorities they identified through the policy statements and assessment process, and worked on developing objectives and action plans to address their priorities. Jim Venner has been hired as the project coordinator to work one-on-one with producers implementing EMS on their farms. Jim will follow up with participants on a regular basis to provide encouragement and direct them to technical advice as needed. Producers will meet again in the fall to discuss their progress and share experiences.
Many livestock producers are concerned about evolving environmental regulations and are waiting for direction and/or cost share assistance from USDA. The producers who attended the workshop are using EMS to take control of the process. They cannot change the regulations, but they can develop and implement a plan to manage the environmental aspects of their operations.
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Page last updated October 5, 2004
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