BOISE – The Idaho cattle industry is raising a stink in hopes of restricting public access to the state’s oversight of feedlot manure operations.
The Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee voted 6-2 Tuesday to bar public access to the reports done once or twice a year by the Department of Agriculture on beef cattle feedlots. The Idaho Cattle Association had lobbied to make the routine feedlot inspection reports confidential.
Ranchers rely on the feedlots to fatten cattle before sending them off to slaughter. The operations, most of which are located in the southern part of the state, produce tons of manure each year – a cause for concern for nearby residents and environmentalists.
Conservationists say livestock waste poses a risk because it could leach into groundwater, streams or irrigation canals and increase the levels of bacteria, nitrates and ammonia.
Cattle industry officials contend the industry is highly regulated and closely monitored by the state and that their effort to make the reports confidential is less about keeping secrets from watchdogs than sharing information that could give other operators a competitive advantage.
Rick Stott, who works for Agri Beef Co., a Boise company that manages feedlots, said details in reports – from a cattle head count to manure volumes and how manure is being managed or sold – could be used to give competitors an edge.
“If you want to offend a rancher, ask him how many cows he has,” he told lawmakers. “It’s like asking you, ‘How much do you have in your bank account?’ ”
The only two opposing votes came from Democrats, who argued the industry’s competitive edge claim didn’t pass their sniff test.
“With some of the things you describe, I don’t see how they change the marketplace so that a producer is advantaged by having that information,” Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, said.
The measure now goes to the full Senate.