Fortunately for the U.S. poultry industry, Ron Prestage, D.V.M., president, Prestage Farms, South Carolina, is never at a loss for ideas or words and is always willing to share them. He served as NTF chairman in 2002, USPOULTRY chairman in 2006 and served on the boards and executive committees of both these organizations. Prestage recently shared his thoughts on the role of the integrator in nutrient management on the farms of its contract growers and on his company's recent expansion.
Co-permitting and integrator responsibility
Some legislators and regulators have taken the position that the poultry integrator is ultimately responsible for the nutrient management practices of its contract growers. This has led to the concept of co-permitting where some regulators and legislators have tried to make any nutrient management permits for growers issued in the name of the grower and the integrator. Most poultry companies have rightly fought co-permitting efforts but Prestage said that some in the poultry industry have let fear of co-permitting and shared liability affect their actions too much.
"Integrators need to take more responsibility, not less, to make sure we, the good guys with the white hats, go the extra step to make sure our industry is doing the right thing," Prestage said. "We need to quit hiding behind the premise that if we do anything for the contract grower, that we would open ourselves up to legal liability. Taking that position does not protect you from being sued; you are going to be sued anyway. You are better off if you go the extra step and make sure that your growers are not part of the problem."
Prestage said that if the integrator is involved and makes sure that growers are acting appropriately, this may remove the belief on the part of the regulators that co-permitting is necessary.
Prestage Farms has been sued in several states for the actions of some of its contract hog and turkey growers by neighbors of the growers. While Prestage has not relished his time in court, he is proud of the fact that his company has never settled a suit and never lost a court battle. Whether or not the farm is company-owned or contracted, knowing that you are doing the right things makes it a little easier to step into the court room.
Integrators stepping up to the plate and helping growers with education and monitoring nutrient management practices can help the industry, according to Prestage. He said that doing this does not create a liability for the integrator. "It helps because regulators see that you are trying to do the right thing and you have some assurance that your growers are doing the right thing," he said. Uncovered litter piles in fields waiting to be spread and manure spreaders traveling on state roads uncovered are two examples of practices that Prestage said the industry should stop. "We shouldn't fight to protect the right to stockpile litter uncovered," he said.
In South Carolina, Prestage said that the poultry industry approached legislators about requiring that litter transported on the road be covered. He said that it was the right thing to do and that the industry gained credibility with legislators by requesting this additional regulation.
South Carolina has created the Confined Animal Manure Management (CAMM) program to provide training for farmers with confinement feeding operations. Prestage said that he arranged for training to be given to all of the company's contract growers at company expense. He also insisted that all service people, grow out manager and Prestage himself be trained and certified. "You will never get in trouble for being overqualified or overeducated," he said.
Getting along with regulators
"There is nothing good about having a problem with a regulatory agency," Prestage said. "Once you realize this, life gets a lot easier. You cannot fight with the regulators and think that you are going to accomplish anything.
"There should be an appropriate accountability for everyone. The integrator has a role, the grower has a role and the regulator has a role. As long as everyone puts the accountability in the right place, there is no problem with the system," he said. Prestage explained that he believes in going to regulators and asking what they would like to see done. "Typically, whatever the regulators expect, we say that is the minimum and try to do more," he said. "You don't want it to become political. If you can prove to them that you have a better way, over time you might be able to convince them."
Prestage cited an example of how maintaining a good working relationship with regulators has helped streamline nutrient management for both the state and his growers. Prestage Farms, South Carolina, starts all its tom poults on brooder farms and moves them at five weeks of age to finisher farms. All the birds are fed out of the same feed mill, use the same type of bedding and are on the same clean out cycles. The state allows for litter to be collected from a number of farms by the company and submitted as either brooder or finisher house litter. A blended sample of each of the two types of litter is analyzed and each grower uses the same analysis for their nutrient management plans, saving time and money for growers and the state.