Sign of the Times: California Producers get Environmental Compliance Help 
Oct 25, 2009
By Anna McBrayer

Hundreds of California dairy producers have returned to the classroom and revived their homework skills to get a leg up on environmental compliance.

Their participation in the California Dairy Quality Assurance Program (CDQAP) not only strengthens their knowledge of the state’s stringent environmental regulations but also saves them hundreds, even thousands, of dollars in fees to the State Water Resources Control Board.

Producers automatically reduce their fees by 50% when they become certified under the program’s Environmental Stewardship module. That means a certified 1,000-cow dairy pays only half of its $1,840 annual bill and a 3,000-cow dairy half of its $6,132 bill.

Driving the recent surge in CDQAP participation are the rigorous waste discharge requirements (WDRs) adopted in 2007 by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (CVRWQCB). Designed to protect the valley’s ground and surface waters, the order marked the first time all existing dairies (as of October 2005) fell under a formal regulatory process.

The order requires the valley’s 1,400 dairies to document their operations—nutrient management plans, forages, manure, field applications, well and groundwater—and submit an annual report to the board. “These regulations are monumental undertakings for dairy producers,” says CDQAP director Michael Payne.

The CDQAP offers a compliance-through-education approach, with classroom and on-farm assistance to meet regional, state and federal environmental regulations.

Since its 1997 formation, the program has touched almost every dairy producer in the state, says associate director Denise Mullinax. In 2008 and 2009 alone, 2,660 producers and consultants attended classes. The program offered 53 classes last year and will offer 28 before 2009 ends.

“With the adoption of the WDRs for the Central Valley, the number of workshops doubled,” Mullinax says. The result has been a WDR compliance rate of more than 90%, Payne says. In addition, 266 dairies have been CDQAP-certified.

“This program does an excellent job of educating producers,” says Clay Rodgers, CVRWQCB program manager. He sees value both for producers and his staff in the 50% fee reduction. “It’s an incentive for producers to do their jobs better. As a result, it takes less staff time to monitor for compliance,” he says.

Ann Silva, who milks 840 cows in Tracy, Calif., calls CDQAP “an incredible educational tool” for the state’s dairy producers.

CDQAP’s Payne doesn’t see that changing. “California’s dairy industry is the most heavily regulated in the country,” he says. “As new research comes to light and new laws are passed, CDQAP will be side-by-side with dairy producers, helping them come into compliance.”