Animal Feeding Operations (AFOs) are agricultural operations where animals are housed, fed, and cared for in barns or other confined space. Nationwide, it is estimated there are over 450,00 AFOs. The vast majority of these operations do not confine enough animals to meet the definition of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) as defined in the new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Rules on CAFOs. All CAFOs must operate under a National Pollutant Elimination System (NPDES) permit. (See CAFO Fact Sheet #2: Do I Need an NPDES Permit for My Livestock or Poultry Operation?)
In contrast to animal operations that use only pasture or free-range production practices, AFOs, by definition, confine animals more than 45 days in a 12-month period. Furthermore, the area of confinement, such as barns or open lots, does not sustain natural vegetation, row crops, or forage crops during the normal growing season. These operations tend to congregate animals, feed, manure, and other waste into small areas. These confinement facilities usually employ mechanical material handling systems to deliver feed to the animals and remove waste.
Despite the tremendous progress made in cleaning up our nation’s inland and coastal waters over the past 30+ years, state assessments report that 40% of our nation’s rivers and streams, 45% of lakes and reservoirs, and 50% of estuaries still do not meet goals for swimming, fishing, or both. Agriculture, including AFOs, is a major source of contaminates to the nation’s inland waters.
In 1999, EPA and USDA formulated a National Unified Strategy to minimize water quality and public health impacts from AFOs. The goal of this unified strategy