LOGANTON, PA. — Nicholas Meat, a Loganton, Pa.-based, beef processor recently announced that it would have to temporarily close following a compliance order by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

In the Feb. 9 order, Nicholas Meat said that the DEP told the company to cease land application of food processing residuals (FPR) on snow-covered fields.

In its statement, Nicholas said it had been doing the practice for more than a decade.

“This arbitrary reversal in the DEP's longstanding position of allowing Nicholas Meat to apply FPR to snow-covered fields, and causing our operation to temporarily shut down, now puts this environmentally beneficial project at serious risk,” said Brian Miller, director of sustainability at Nicholas Meat. 

Pennsylvania DEP spokesperson Megan Lehman said the agency did not order the Nicholas Meat operation to shut down. She explained that the company had multiple legal options to manage its FPR.

“The Nicholas Meat facility has expanded greatly in recent years, while the storage for the residual waste the process generates has not kept up,” Lehman said in a statement. “That growth, coupled with an unusually long standing snowpack and no backup plan, is the genesis of this issue. DEP recently issued permits to Nicholas Meat for the construction of a waste digester, which is hoped to provide a long-term, sustainable solution.”

Lehman mentioned DEP’s Food Processing Residual Management Manual stance on permission to do this during the winter.

“Field application of FPRs is not permitted on snow-covered ground,” the manual stated. “Remember, the potential for a pollution incident is greatest in the winter, and therefore so is your liability.”

However, Robin Brandt, the principal author of the manual, provided Nicholas with a statement of approval of the company’s continued land application of FPR year-round including when snow-covered.

“The intent of the FPR guidance is to promote environmentally responsible beneficial use of FPRs,” Brandt said. “From what I have seen, the Bazooka-Farmstar toolbar equipment used by Nicholas Meat LLC satisfies the intent of the FPR manual. At the time this narrative was drafted for the FPR manual, in the early 90s, we were not aware of any practical land application equipment that could overcome the drawbacks associated with treatment of snow-covered fields.”

Nicholas Meat employs 350 workers and 150 contract workers along with hundreds of farmers and cattle buyers. The company processes 600 head of beef cattle daily.

“If action is not taken to reverse the shocking decision of the DEP, these people will be without jobs and income to support their families,” said Doug Nicholas, chief operating officer of Nicholas Meat. “These are the same employees who have shown up to work every day to feed Pennsylvania families despite challenging times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the plant never shut down, because we were able to ensure that safety standards were in place to help these essential workers do their jobs and contribute to our nation’s food supply.”

Nicholas Meat concluded its remarks by citing that the Pennsylvania Superior Court and DEP both found its FPR land application activities to be acceptable and permissible in the past and that the storage was ‘normal agricultural operations’ under the Pennsylvania Right to Farm Act.