Summer 2005

Voluntary Environmental Improvement Programs: Comparing CNMP and EMS on Western Iowa Livestock Farms


By Suzanne Schuknecht, John D. Lawrence, and Joe Lally, Department of Economics


Two separate programs to assist livestock producers voluntarily implement practices to protect water quality were undertaken in western Iowa. The Livestock Environmental Management System Pilot Project (LEMS) was a four part educational program to teach producers to assess their operation, identify environmental priorities and develop, implement and document an action plan to address them. The Western Iowa Livestock External Stewardship Pilot Project (WILESPP) used livestock industry representatives, state and federal agencies and producers to develop and implement a Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) for each participant.

Cows and pigsThe WILESPP involved 19 participants representing contract hog producers, independent hog producers and cattle producers. The LEMS project started with 35 beef feedlots with 200-8,000 head capacity and ended with 19 implementing their environmental management system (EMS). Each project took approximately a year to develop, a year to implement and the survey of participants was taken a year after implementation was completed. The programs differ fundamentally in that the CNMP is a prescriptive process completed for the producer by consultants while the EMS is an educational process in which the producer develops his or her own plan. This summary looks at the accomplishments and attitudes of the participants. A pproximately half of those finishing the projects responded to the survey .


All the participants surveyed are currently using their EMS or CNMP plan. Eighty-four percent have referred to the plan in the last three months, but only 28 percent have updated their original plan. All the participants believe that because of the programs they have a better understanding of environmental regulations and are better complying with these rules and regulations. Ninety-five percent of the participants believe that they practice better stewardship because of the programs. Both groups believed that the producer was the person most responsible for environmental protection, followed by the DNR, NRCS and then commodity groups. Forty-six percent have seen improved crop yield or performance since using their plans, while 45 percent have seen improvement in soil conservation through less erosion and runoff.

There is little difference in the response between the two groups suggesting that either method of voluntary participation can result in adoption of environmental protection practices. However, there were three differences that largely reflect differences between hog and cattle farms in Iowa.

  • By design, all of the WILESPP participants implemented a CNMP that includes soil and manure analysis and manure application based on phosphorous. Some type of nutrient management plan was already required and used by the hog producers in the project. A smaller percent of the LEMS participants have a nutrient management plan. It was not identified as a priority in their EMS and for most it is not required by regulations.
  • LEMS participants invested more in manure control structures than those in WILESPP. The hog producers in the WILESPP already had the structures in place while the cattle producers in the LEMS project needed additional construction.
  • The LEMS project represented a journey of continuous improvement towards environmental stewardship while the WILESPP project represented a destination of completing a CNMP document and implementing the plan. WILESPP participants had few plans for future improvements other than to implement the CNMP. LEMS participants are continuing to identify new objectives and changes to implement.


Dry spreaderA vast majority of participants were satisfied with different aspects of the pilot programs that they participated in and feel that the programs met their goals. Perhaps most telling is that the majority would participate again and all the participants would recommend their program to another producer.

Although prescriptive and more consultant driven, at the end each WILESPP participant had implemented a CNMP for the land receiving manure. While few have, or are required to have, a nutrient management plan, LEMS participants working largely on their own after learning the process identified their priorities, developed a strategy and implemented changes and had plans for future business and environmental improvements.

For a complete summary of the report click here.


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