Committee: Manure Rules Might Violate ‘Right To Farm’

The Wellington Equestrian Preserve Committee will ask experts in agriculture to weigh in on proposed changes to how Wellington handles its livestock waste.

Members of the committee were asked to take another look at the village’s best management practices ordinance Wednesday, Aug. 8, but chose to table the item to sort out concerns of the village’s ability to enforce rules on farms with agricultural exemptions.

The changes were proposed to help Wellington meet federal Environmental Protection Agency water-quality standards. They would govern how farm owners manage manure and include requiring watertight storage areas and prohibiting the spreading of untreated manure.

Last month, committee members tabled the item for 90 days to wait for the county to draft its own regulations for livestock waste management, but Equestrian Master Plan Project Director Mike O’Dell said there were no such regulations being drafted.

“Their [best management practices ordinance] simply deals with fertilizer,” he told committee members. “The county will not be pursuing any kind of livestock waste [ordinance].”

Committee Chair Cynthia Gardner said that she still thought it would be best to see what the county’s policies for fertilizer are before Wellington drafts its policy. “Wouldn’t it be well-served to see what it is they are doing before we adopt ours?” she asked.

Gardner said she didn’t think any changes were necessary to Wellington’s livestock waste practices, and felt many were unenforceable.

“The proposed change on coverings is one that has negligible impact,” Gardner said. “It’s not enforceable. How would you know if people managed to get out and get their tarp on if it was raining?”

She added that changes requiring composting of manure were unnecessary. “The content of phosphorus that’s applied to the soil is the same whether it’s composted or freshly spread,” she said.

Gardner pointed to the Loxahatchee Groves ordinance that requires manure be spread within three days. “It’s a preference item,” she said.

Committee Member Carlos Arellano said that he believed many residents would be exempt from the changes under the Florida Right to Farm Act. He pointed out that the ordinance said the changes “shall not apply to bona-fide farm operations.”

Arellano said he pulled the records of properties with agricultural exemptions in Wellington.

“There are 4,053 acres and 721 owners with the agricultural exemption,” he said. “So, they are exempt. We cannot enforce these [changes].”

Committee Member Linda Elie asked O’Dell if he’d taken the language for Wellington’s fertilizer management from the measures the county was discussing.

O’Dell said he had. “I received a copy of the latest ordinance proposal,” he said. “The changes are identical to what we have right now.

Committee Member Dr. Kristy Lund pointed to some of the language in the ordinance, asking whether the changes would also not apply to “other properties not subject to or covered under the Florida Right to Farm Act that have pastures used for grazing livestock.”

That, she said, could include even more farms. “The definition of a pasture was anything more than a half-acre,” she said. “Since horses are included under livestock… that means those properties would not be subject to these rules. Is that correct?”

O’Dell said he did not believe that was the case. “I don’t think [the Florida Right to Farm Act] trumps water quality standards or legislative action associated with water quality,” he said.

But Gardner said that was a matter of debate. “I have been told by members of the [agricultural] department that [the act] does trump it,” she said.

Gardner said she wanted to be sure whether the new rules could apply to farms with agricultural exemptions. “I think it would be a good idea to find out if it is,” she said.

Lund questioned whether the committee was correct in making the changes. “Are we in the right if we’re interfering with the Florida Right to Farm Act?” she asked.

O’Dell said he thought the exemptions would apply to fertilizer, not livestock waste management.

Gardner suggested that the best management practices ordinance be split to address fertilizer and livestock waste separately. She requested that staff ask experts in agriculture for their opinions on whether Wellington can impose these changes.

Elie made a motion to table the item until the committee’s next meeting to get input from experts. “Then we can have discussion and make our decision going forward from that,” she said.

Committee Member Myles Tashman added that he would like to see a legal opinion from Village Attorney Jeff Kurtz.

Lund seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.