Some old news is really getting a lot of attention in Nebraska. The EPA is conducting fly overs. They are looking for feeding operations that are discharging. I say this is old news because the EPA did this in Iowa a couple years ago and in the fall of 2010 an EPA inspector told several UNL extension personnel that they were going to do it in Nebraska.
Myself and the Extension educators called Michael Kelsey, the Executive VP at Nebraska Cattlemen, and warned him of this action. Since NC is acting so surprised about this action from EPA my guess is Kelsey did not take us seriously and blew off our warning. Now I don’t think a feedlot should ever get fined for discharge because they should not discharge. We know what the law is, and really EPA is a law enforcement agency. (for the record I do not like any law enforcement agency) If there are bad actors out there we need to find them and deal with them, and then let them get on with business.
The argument most commonly brought forward is that the fly over is an invasion of privacy and property rights. I gotta roll my eyes here and question why I paid my membership dues to livestock associations if that is the best they got. Let me change the set up here for a second. People go into the FSA office, sign up for programs and get a subsidy. At the FSA office they get a photo of their farm. It is a bit blurred and no one questions where that photo came from. That photo comes from a military satellite. Before that photo is blurred it is so clear and detailed that you can count the cattle in the pens and how many bales the guy has on his yard. And, the photo is of the entire place, house and all. Now the EPA fly overs are being conducted in a two seated plane and the photos are being taken of the feedlot pens. Not the residence. The camera they are using is a store bought Sony camera. My guess is tech nerds have better cameras than the EPA. So is this an invasion of privacy? My guess is if there was a subsidy tied to it like at the FSA not many people would have a problem with it.
Let me ask you this. Would it be any different if they sat on the gravel road in front of the place and took pics? Is it going to look any different from the road than from the air? Most CAFO’s are built close to a public road. Everything we do is right out there where people can see it. So if you think flyovers are a bad thing I guess you better tell people to quit driving by and looking at your place from the road.
I have heard that some think they are picking a certain producers, and that this is a costly procedure. When EPA does these fly overs I doubt they say “Let’s fly over so and so’s place. I just bet he is polluting.” No, they are doing fly overs in certain regions of the state. Say for example a county. I live in Gage county. So if they did fly overs in here they just go up in the air and randomly fly around. It is not hard to spot a CAFO from the air. Everything here is still kinda green yet despite the drought. So a CAFO will pop out because it will be the big brown spot. They fly over take a photo or three and if they determine they need a closer look they take a GPS reading so they know where the place is and can come do an inspection on the ground. There are roughly about 4800 registered feedlots in Nebraska. To pay employees to drive to all these locations would require lots of miles, fuel, man hours and so on. Fly overs can look at lots of operations quickly and enable them to pinpoint bad actors that they need to come back and pay a visit to. I would argue that these fly overs are probably a cost savings.
I own a CAFO. I can tell you I would not like it at all if an EPA inspector showed up at my place with photos of my yard taken from a plane. My neighbor did that once, and he got an ear full for taking those photos. I am not allowed to pollute water or soil. People around my operation have the right to clean water and soil. So would it be too much for me assume that I have the right to clean air above my place?
I used to go hunting. I was not allowed to hunt from an airplane. Could you imagine how easy it would be to spot deer or coyotes from a plane? That is what EPA is doing. They are hunting from the sky. It is hard not to feel like there is this predator/ prey relationship in existence here right now. If they fly low enough over the place it is highly likely that they will spook the cattle. Maybe cause them to crash through a fence and damage property and possibly injure themselves.
In conclusion I think it is silly to get all butt hurt about these flyovers. I can’t see how it is any different than the state trooper that sits in front of my house a catches speeders that come over the hill to the north or come around the curve from the south. If you are traveling this road you can’t see him until it is to late. So is it the troopers fault or your own? In the case of these flyovers I would dare say you should be upset with the farm associations in this state because people like me warned them a couple years ago and they did nothing all through 2011 to educate their membership. In fact they didn’t even host any nutrient management meetings until months after a series of these fly overs had taken place. As far as our Nebraska delegation in DC getting all worked up telling EPA to stop……..what a joke, like they are going to help us.