Director Column

@iowabeefcenter on Twitter Iowa Beef Center on Facebook Watch us on YouTube Growing Beef newsletter

link opens in new window/tab note: pdf files open in new window/tab | click on headings for more information

Dan Loy, Iowa Beef Center director's monthly column featured in Cattleman Magazine. Archives

Dan Loy in The Cattleman Magazine


April 2018

Protecting Water Quality

For Iowa feedlots the path to environmental stewardship and regulation has also been a path to growth, however painful. The clean water act of 1972 initiated the permitting process for feedlots called the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System. The NPDES requires feedlots over a certain size threshold (1,000 animal units) to obtain a permit, contain all runoff form a 25-year, 24-hour storm event and follow other regulations and paperwork including a manure management plan.

Interestingly this process also was the first to define the Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation. Medium CAFOs are operations of 300-1,000 head of animal units and large CAFOs are greater than 1,000 head. In the 1980s and 1990s, fear related to the costs associated with complying with these regulations and a general perception that properly settling solids from feedlot runoff alone was effective in minimizing negative water quality impacts kept many feedlots at less than 1,000 head. In fact, Iowa clearly led the nation in 999-head feedlots and very few feedlots were actually permitted.

This all changed in 2001 with the “Iowa Plan for Open Feedlots.” This was a program where large Iowa feedlots could have a five-year amnesty program to come into compliance with the NPDES permitting process. Over the course of those five years many feedlots invested in environmental control facilities to comply with these regulations. In many cases the controls that were established exceeded those necessary for their current size to allow for expansion.

In 2012 the scrutiny on Iowa feedlots expanded to include medium sized operations (300-1,000 head) that might have potential for pollution through the EPA/DNR Work Plan. This plan called for inspections of more than 8,000 livestock operations in Iowa over a five-year period. Many medium feedlots put practices in place as a result of this process. In fact, this process has effectively eliminated the 999-head “ceiling” and many of these feedlots have made the decision to get the necessary permitting and grow beyond 1,000 head. USDA Cattle on Feed inventories confirm that cattle numbers have been growing at a much faster rate in the more than 1,000-head feedyards.

Over the past two decades Iowa cattle feeders have invested untold millions in water quality improvements and set the stage for sustainable growth of the industry. For more information on environmental management for feedlots see the Iowa Manure Management Action Group website.

Of course, cattlemen also are leaders in environmental stewardship as it relates to incorporating forage-based systems and cover crops that help retain nutrients, protect soil and sequester carbon. To learn more about spring grazing cover crops be sure and check out our field days on spring grazing cereal rye cover crops at the ISU Allee Research Farm near Newell on April 12 and the ISU McNay research farm near Chariton on April 24.

Leadership in water quality efforts by cattlemen does not stop at the borders of Iowa. With cattlemen controlling many acres of land across the U.S., they have a unique responsibility for water quality. A recent literature review summarized the potential water quality issues in beef production, the practices that producers across the U.S. can implement to improve water quality and the extent to which those practices are being put into place. For more information see the Water Quality and Beef Sustainability paper on NCBA’s Beef Sustainability Research page.


The IBC at Iowa State University serves as the university’s extension program to cattle producers. Our center comprises a team of faculty and staff from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the College of Veterinary Medicine and Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. We work together to develop and deliver the latest in research-based information to improve the profitability and vitality of Iowa’s beef industry. If you’d like to be notified of updates on progress of research projects or programs that might be coming to your area, please subscribe to our “Growing Beef” newsletter by following the link on our website, If you have a question, use the “Ask our Experts” link on the website. Also, feel free to call us at 515-294-BEEF or email us at You can also follow @iowabeefcenter on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram.



click on headings for more information