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Iowa cattle operation fined for stockpiling manure, contaminating creek

by Jared Strong

A central Iowa cattle confinement's outdoor stockpile of manure was repeatedly washed by rain into a nearby creek over the course of about a year, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

PSL Cattle began operating southeast of Grinnell in 2017 with a total capacity of about 1,900 cattle, DNR records show.

In November 2020, someone reported to the DNR that a pile of manure at the site had been present for more than a year, even though it was required to be applied to fields within six months. The facility’s operator, Doug Hoksbergen, said the manure had frozen in fall 2019 before it could be put onto a field and didn’t thaw in time to apply it that spring, DNR records show.

Hoksbergen said at the time that he would dispose of the manure as soon as harvest was complete.

In April 2021, after a complaint that manure runoff from the site was flowing into a tributary of Middle Buck Creek, the DNR noted another manure stockpile. It had a visible pathway to be washed into the tributary when there was rainfall. A DNR officer also noted manure piled close to drainage tile intakes.

By that time, Farmers National Company was managing the site because it was in foreclosure proceedings, DNR records show. Great Western Bank had sued Hoksbergen for foreclosure for more than $12 million of unpaid debts, according to court records.

A representative of Farmers National Company told the DNR that manure would no longer be stockpiled outside.

But another complaint in July 2021 revealed a similar situation, and DNR tests of the creek water showed elevated levels of ammonia and fecal bacteria.

Then in August 2021, someone complained that manure from the site was excessively applied to a nearby pasture. A DNR officer went to the field and saw manure up to 8 inches thick covering the ground, and in some places it was within 50 feet of the creek. The DNR determined that Hoksbergen overapplied the manure to a field that was not an approved disposal site of the facility’s manure management plan and that Hoksbergen was not certified to do the work.

At the DNR’s request, Farmers National Company hired someone to mix the manure into the soil of the field.

The DNR documented two further instances of manure washing from the facility into the creek in August and September 2021.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of getting manure removed and land applied as quickly as possible,” wrote Bill Gibbons, an environmental specialist for the DNR, in an email to Farmers National Company.

One of the buildings is now owned by First Interstate Bank — which merged with Great Western Bank this year — and doesn’t have any cattle inside it. The other building is still managed by Hoksbergen.

The DNR recently fined Hoksbergen, Farmers National Company, and First Interstate Bank $10,000 for the repeated manure discharges into the creek.

Gibbons said he was not aware of any fish deaths related to those discharges.

Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of the States Newsroom, a network of similar news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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