Producers are encouraged to assess how they can reduce their operation’s foot print on the environment 

Agricultural producers and the environment can benefit enormously from each other when producers take proper care of the resources they’ve been given.

When these resources are carefully managed with regard to the potential environmental risks and how the management impacts everything involved, the environment gives back generously. That’s why producers should assess the environmental risk of their operation.

An environmental risk assessment helps to organize and execute sustainable management practices. Farmers and ranchers may have good intentions and an idea of how to reduce their farm’s footprint, but making a full assessment can help keep everything straight, find innovative ideas and manage risk.

“Managing business environmental risk in agriculture consists of making the production process more efficient in such a way as to limit its environmental consequences while increasing profitability,” Ray Massey, University of Missouri Extension professor, Commercial Agriculture Program, said. “No productive activity is 100 percent efficient. Among the inputs used, some are transformed into the desired product while others are discarded as waste or by-products, or escape into the environment. Unused inputs in a productive process constitute a pollutant if they have a negative impact on the environment.”

Potential pollutants pose the largest environmental risk on an agriculture operation.

“In every production process, whether agricultural or nonagricultural, inputs are used to create a finished product or commodity. Inevitably, some inputs are not fully used and are released into the environment in forms that may be considered pollutants. Whenever the level of pollution exceeds the environment’s ability to absorb and process, these discharges, environmental risks develop,” Massey said.

Common pollutants include sediment, fertilizers, chemical pesticides, manure and gases. When making an assessment, all possible pollutants should be included.

Assessment can help determine what’s known as business environmental risk.

“Business environmental risk arises from the probability that adverse environmental effects of business decisions will affect business performance and viability,” explained Massey. Issues like loss of topsoil, fertilizer runoff and improper disposal of manure can all add to a producer’s business environmental risk.

Once you’ve completed your assessment, you can implement management practices to lower environmental and business environmental risk.

“The purpose of risk management may be to reduce the magnitude of an adverse event,” Massey said. As an example, a breach of a full 13-month lagoon would clearly be a much more adverse event than a breach of a smaller lagoon. As a risk management measure, a secondary containment system between the lagoon and a stream would catch a spill from the lagoon and reduce the magnitude of the environmental problem.”

Other risk management strategies include no-till practices to reduce soil erosion, composting manure, using biological pest control as opposed to chemicals, and participation in government assistance programs such as the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program or the Missouri Department of Conservation Private Land Assistance Program.


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