On-Farm Assessment & Environmental Review (OFAER) Program

Mr. David White, Ohio Livestock Coalition and Dr. Maurice Eastridge, Dairy Nutrition Specialist, Ohio State University

The goals of the pro-active OFAER program are to promote environmental stewardship, minimize livestock impact on watersheds, improve the public's perception of livestock production, and move agriculture, particularly animal production agriculture, toward self-regulation.

The OFAER provides a critical overview of beef, dairy, poultry, and pork farms in areas relating to overall site management, livestock housing and feeding systems, manure management, nutrient management, livestock mortality management, and non-regulatory assessment of the livestock production site. The resulting confidential verbal and written report identifies strengths, challenges, and recommendations for use in the livestock or poultry operation as the farmer chooses.

The OFAER was developed in cooperation with the USDA- NRCS, Extension specialists, private agriculture consultants, livestock producers, and commodity organizations. On a national basis, the program is administered by America's Clean Water Foundation (ACWF), a national non-profit organization that received federal funding for the program. Environmental Management Solutions (EMS) of Des Moines, Iowa handles scheduling of the on-farm assessments and oversees the operation of the program. The Ohio Livestock Coalition (OLC) coordinates the program in Ohio and works in cooperation with ACWF and EMS to make sure farmers who wish to participate in the program properly complete the producer checklist prior to scheduling the on-farm assessment and review.

The EMS has trained a variety of agricultural professionals as assessors, with many of them being Extension agents, NRCS or SWCD professionals, private ag or environmental consultants, or agricultural, mechanical, or civil engineers. During an on-farm assessment, a team of two assessors with different backgrounds evaluate environmental risks, such as surface-water pollution, groundwater contamination, odor, and pests.

All sizes of farms are eligible to participate in the OFAER program, and it is open to beef, dairy, poultry, turkey, and pork operations. Data from the program indicates that environmental challenges are similar in type, no matter the size of the operation and that well-managed operations of any size can be environmentally successful. When risk areas are identified, producers find that by addressing such areas several valuable benefits occur - a reduction in potential liability exposure, an enhancement in community acceptance, and a savings in operating costs and expenses.

Unlike a visit to the physician's office, the OFAER program is of no cost to the producer. Also, when risk areas are identified on farms, most of these risks can be addressed by developing and implementing best management practices (BMP). Specifically, more than 90% of the risks identified have been addressed by BMP. Structural changes were needed to address only 9% of the identified risks. And, cost-share funding for such practices and structures may be available from the USDA - NRCS or the local SWCD office.

Ohio dairy producer, Jim Comp, has participated in OFAER and was featured in the September 2003 issue of Dairy Herd Management. To initiate an on-farm assessment, contact the OLC at dwhite@ofbf.org or (614) 246-8288.