Water and Air Quality

“Every Iowan lives in a watershed. Therefore, any effort to improve water quality must be holistic, pragmatic and involve multiple stakeholders, including agriculture, industry and municipalities.” —Mark Jackson, Mahaska County farmer 

Sustainability is not new to livestock farmers, who are dedicated to leaving their land, farming businesses and communities in even better shape for generations to come. 

It takes all of us, working together to keep our water and air clean. Many factors affect the environment, and maintaining air and water quality is a high priority for farmers. Their families live on the land, breathe the same air and drink the same water as you, so doing things right is not only a responsibility — it’s a way of life, and livestock farmers embrace this every day. 

Water Quality

  • Today’s farms work to improve efficiencies, reduce environmental impact and comply with rules and regulations. Since 1971, laws clearly specify that livestock farms are not allowed to impact water quality. Livestock farms with animals raised indoors are held to the highest water quality standard. By law, farmers cannot release any waste into the environment. 
  • Strict national and state regulations govern the raising of livestock, and Iowa rules specify facilities’ distance from water, neighbors and public areas. And, government agencies continuously inspect and test our water. 
  • Regulations specify the distances that livestock and poultry buildings must be from water sources and wells. Minimum separation distances from water must be maintained when applying manure. 
  • Raising farm animals indoors means livestock farmers capture and contain animal manure, which is repurposed as fertilizer for crops in a highly managed process. Livestock farmers work with experts to develop manure management plans, which show that a farm has adequate manure storage and recycling systems for the number of animals on their farms.  These plans specify how much manure can be applied to each field, and are based on field nutrient needs and manure nutrient content.
  • Management of animal waste is often much stricter than most municipal wastewater policies for cities. 
  • Water quality is influenced by many human activities, whether agricultural, industrial, or recreational along with climate events and wildlife activities. Farmers continually strive to improve the environment; however, we must all do our part. 

Air Quality

  • Naturally, there are odors associated with livestock farming. But just because you smell it doesn’t mean it’s a threat to air quality or human health.
  • Livestock farmers work with industry, university researchers and other experts to improve air quality.
  • The livestock industry has a true commitment to air quality. In 2005, the EPA announced the Air Quality Consent Agreement with U.S. animal agriculture aimed at studying emissions from farms. The livestock industry stepped up and volunteered to participate in the study to gather scientific data.
  • Iowa has its own air quality standards, and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through its onsite monitoring system found air quality was not impacted on most of the state’s livestock farms. 

CSIF’s Green Farmstead Partner program connects livestock and poultry farmers with resources to voluntarily plant trees on their farms, which helps improve water and air quality, reduce odor and enhance visual aesthetics.

Farmers understand that clean air, land and water are crucial to the long-term success of not only their family and business, but also the entire state.