In the 1960s, the Department encouraged farmers to voluntarily comply with the Pollution Control Act. Prior to 1967, with few exceptions, manure management and manure treatment on South Carolina farms were nonexistent in regard to protecting State waters from nutrients, pathogenic organisms, and other causes of degradation.
Manure systems most commonly used prior to 1967 were low places that were unsuitable for agriculture. An animal facility would be constructed on the high side of the undesirable land and mother nature was then allowed to take her course in removing the manure through natural processes. These systems, while not ideal, worked well as long as there were not a large number of animals or a high concentration of facilities in an area or a stream nearby.
Between 1967 and 1970, the number of permitted facilities grew to about 100. The number of permitted facilities continued to grow through the 1970s to about 800 facilities and then rose to about 1,000 in the 1980s. Today, there are about 1,055 permitted agricultural facilities in SC. A big change in the type of facilities has also been seen. The number of small family farms has decreased while the number of larger animal growing operations has increased and the integrator has now become a main stay in most animal growing operations.
Early animal facility management plans were simple compared to today’s plans and did not address the variety of issues which today’s plans address. With an increase in the number of permitted facilities came the advent of more scientifically designed manure handling and treatment systems at these facilities. A formal program developed whereby existing unpermitted facilities were more aggressively pursued by the Department to obtain permits.
While there were no specific regulations for agricultural facilities until 1998, a set of permitting guidelines evolved over the years. These guidelines were used until 1998 when the formal regulations first went into effect. The initial regulations essentially adopted the permitting criteria of the guidelines while adding the criteria from the 1996 SC Confined Swine Feeding Operations Act. The regulations were updated in 2002 to include new criteria for large swine facilities over 1,000,000 pounds, permitting requirements for manure broker operations, an integrator registration program, and other miscellaneous corrections and clarifications. The 1996 SC Confined Swine Feeding Operations Act was repealed with the adoption of this update of the regulations.
The US Department of Agriculture's Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) prepared the Facility Management Plans for farmers in SC. However, NRCS stopped providing this service to the SC agricultural community in November 2004. Now all new and expanding Facility Management Plans are prepared by a SC register professional engineer.
Today, the typical farm that is permitted has professionally designed facilities for handling, storing, treating (if necessary), and disposing of the manure generated at the facility. The manure is generally utilized on cropland which reduces or eliminates the need for commercial fertilizer. Dead animals are properly disposed of by incineration, burial, composting, or rendering. Animal facility management plans now address a number of other issues such as: odor control, vector control, and other nuisances; protection of ground and surface waters; and aesthetic considerations. This program is vital to protecting South Carolina’s water quality and ensuring today’s farmers are good environmental stewards and neighbors.
Still, there are challenges in the agricultural program to find even better ways to handle, store, treat, and utilize the manure generated at animal growing facilities. With increased residential growth in the rural areas, agricultural facilities are under more scrutiny today than in years past. Plus there are concerns from the public about standard agricultural practices. The news media now reports on agricultural activities which means the public is more aware of agricultural issues, both pro and con.
These concerns can and are being addressed by the Department and the regulated community. Today’s animal facility management plans include Crop Management Plans, Odor Abatement Plans, Vector Abatement Plans, Manure Sampling Programs, Soil Monitoring Programs, and Emergency Plans. Ground water monitoring may also be a part of the plan. All owners of permitted agricultural facilities are required to attend Clemson University's Manure Manager's Training Program. Each of these items helps the farmer properly manage manure, litter, and dead animals so that no environmental problems occur and odors and other nuisances are not at undesirable levels. This allows the farmer to continue to be a good neighbor even when his neighbor is now just across the street or a few hundred feet away, instead of thousands of feet or several miles away.
In order to meet the continuing demands placed on the environment by the growth in population of both humans and agricultural animals, the Department encourages the use of innovative and alternative technology for dealing with animal wastes on the farm. The regulations on animal growing operations have a section on the use of innovative and alternative technologies. In the future, the Department expects to see more proposals that include innovative and alternative technologies.
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