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Frequently Asked Questions

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), Division of Water Pollution Control, defines an "Animal Feeding Operation" (AFO) as a facility that (1) stables, confines, and feeds or maintains animals (other than aquatic animals) for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period, and (2) does not sustain crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues in the normal growing season over any portion of the facility.

CAFOs are large-scale animal production facilities where many animals are raised or maintained, where feed is brought to the animals, and where wastes accumulate in a small area. An operation MUST be defined as an "Animal Feeding Operation" (AFO) before it can be defined as a CAFO. Once a facility meets the AFO definition, if its size meets or exceeds the size thresholds in Column I of the following table, it is considered a large CAFO. If an AFO has animal numbers within a range given in Column II, it has the potential to be considered a medium CAFO if any one of the following conditions is met:

  • Pollutants are discharged through a discrete, discernable conveyance to waters of the state; or
  • pollutants are discharged to waters of the state that come into direct contact with the animals confined in the operation; or
  • the AFO is located on a waterbody that has been identified by TDEC as being impaired for nutrients or pathogens; or
  • the AFO began operation on or after May 1, 1999; or
  • the AFO expanded its operation on or after the promulgation date of this regulation.
Animal Type Large CAFO Medium CAFO
Dairy Cows 700 + 200-699
Cattle 1000 + 300-999
Swine >55 lbs 2,500 + 750-2,599 (>55 lbs)
Swine < 55 lbs 10,000 + 3,000-9,000 (<55 lbs)
Chickens (liquid) 30,000 + 9,000-29,999
Chickens (dry) Non-layers 125,000 + 37,500-124,999 (non-layers)
Chickens (dry) Layers 82,000 + 25,000-81,999 (layers)
Horses 500 + 150-499
Sheep/lambs 10,000 + 3,000-9,999
Turkeys 55,000 + 16,400-54,999
Ducks (liquid waste management) 5,000 + 1,500-4,999 (liquid waste management)
Ducks (dry waste management) 30,000 + 10,000-29,999 (dry waste management)

Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) confine large numbers of animals in relatively small areas. If the resulting waste is mismanaged, it can contribute to land, air, and water quality problems.

Land Impacts:

  • Mismanaged CAFO waste, applied to fields, can harbor pathogens such as Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella. These pathogens can contaminate crops destines for human consumption, causing human illness outbreaks.
  • Studies performed in Ohio, North Carolina, and Iowa show that CAFOs, especially mismanaged CAFOs, can cause property devaluation due to loss of amenities or the risk of water or air pollution.
  • Over-application of nutrients to fields can runoff fields and/or percolate through the soil to groundwater, causing water pollution.

Air Quality Impacts:

  • CAFO manure and litter, as it breaks down, can emit different gases, including ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane. Ammonia can cause irritation to the skin, eyes, throat, and nose. Hydrogen sulfide, at low concentrations, can cause eye irritation, a sore throat and cough, and shortness of breath. Exposure to methane can make a person feel tired, dizzy, and have a headache. Methane can also form a dangerously explosive mixture with air.
  • Particulate matter from CAFOs can also cause human health impacts. Particulate matter of a size between 2.5 and 10 micrometers (PM10), or particulate matter small enough to get into your lungs, can cause a wide range of respiratory symptoms such as pulmonary disease.

Water Quality Impacts:

Excessive nutrients from CAFO waste that enter natural waterways can cause eutrophication (or algal blooms). These algal blooms can produce toxins that kill fish, adversely impact wildlife, and contaminate drinking water. The cost for treating drinking water affected by algal blooms increases significantly, causing utility costs to increase for the impacted community. Also, recreational activities (such as swimming and fishing) may be prohibited at contaminated waterbodies due to safety concerns.

CAFO waste has additional constituents that may pose a threat to human health such as heavy metals, hormones, and antibiotics. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published a literature review in 2013 that summarizes the types of chemicals, nutrients, and pathogens that CAFO waste can contribute to the environment (see the link below).

Literature Review of Contaminants in Livestock and Poultry Manure and Implications for Water Quality

"Waters" means any and all water, public or private, on or beneath the surface of the ground, which are contained within, flow through, or border upon Tennessee or any portion thereof except those bodies of water confined to and retained within the limits of private property in single ownership which do not combine or effect a junction with natural or underground waters. In other words, if it flows onto or off of your property, or flows beneath your property, it is considered waters of the state. An example of a water body that is NOT considered waters of the state would be a small stock pond, located completely within your property, with no connection to groundwater.

Any facility that is defined or designated as a medium or large concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) is subject to permitting in the State of Tennessee. The type of operation you have will determine the type of permit you need.

  • Medium and large operations that have discharged within the previous five years are required to obtain a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit.
  • Large CAFOs that have the potential to discharge (most often because they have an outdoor wastewater storage structure such as a lagoon) are required to obtain an Individual State Operating Permit or an NPDES. The choice of which permit to obtain rests with the owner of the operation.
  • Medium CAFOs that have the potential to discharge are required to obtain a General State Operating Permit for Class II Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), known as an SOPCI permit.
  • Medium and large CAFOs that are not designed to discharge, and do not have the potential to discharge (that is, they don't produce wastewater because they use a dry waste management system, or their wastewater is kept indoors and under cover), are required to obtain a General State Operating Permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), known as an SOPC permit.
  • Medium and large poultry CAFOs that are not designed to discharge, do not have the potential to discharge (i.e. use a dry litter management method), and do not land apply litter (i.e. 100% export facilities), are required to obtain a General State Operating Permit for Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) Modified, known as an SOPCE permit.

If you need assistance determining if your operation requires a permit, and which permit is appropriate, contact Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) - Division of Water Resources at (615) 253-2245, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) - CAFO Program at (615) 837-5306, your local United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office, or the nearest University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension Service office.

This TDEC page reviews who needs a permit, and what type.

Information specific to NPDES permitting in Tennessee can be found here.

The University of Tennessee has also developed fact sheets that may be helpful in determining if your operation requires a CAFO permit, and includes examples of documents needed for a CAFO permit application.  The fact sheets can be found here

Put simply, it's the law. If your operation meets the criteria of a medium or large CAFO, you are required by state and/or federal law to acquire an appropriate permit. Operations that fail to obtain a permit as required are subject to enforcement actions by TDEC and possibly the EPA. Fines as high as $2,500 for the first offense can be levied against you for operating without a permit. Federal fines can be as high as $37,500 per violation, per day.

Another benefit to getting a CAFO permit is that by taking the time and effort to obtain a permit, you are showing your commitment to natural resources stewardship and responsible land management. Being permitted indicates you are making a strong effort to operate responsibly, and regulatory/enforcement agencies generally acknowledge and appreciate that. A permit is a strong witness on your behalf should you ever have, or cause, a water quality issue.

A third good reason for obtaining a CAFO permit, is that the process of meeting permit requirements is designed to make you a better manager, and thereby prevent problems from arising.

All CAFOs apply to the Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) for permit coverage. The address is listed below:

Tennessee Dept. of Agriculture
CAFO Program
Ellington Agricultural Center
P.O. Box 40627
Nashville, TN  37220
Telephone: (615) 837-5489

The CAFO permit application requires the following items:

  • Notice of Intent (NOI) for facilities applying for an individual State Operating Permit or a General State Operating Permit (SOPC, SOPCE, or SOPCI).
  • OR
  • Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Form 1 and Form 2b for facilities applying for an SOP or National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. (Those applying for an SOP can use either the NOI or EPA Form 1 and Form 2b.)
  • A Declaration to Nutrient Management Plan form.
  • A Nutrient Management Plan (NMP) or Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP).

The forms above can be found here, under "CAFO Forms."  

All CAFOs are required to develop, submit for state approval, implement, and keep on site a site-specific Nutrient Management Plan (NMP). A Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP) is required for operations that wish to participate in cost-share or loan programs through United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). The CNMP must be prepared by USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) staff, or a certified Technical Service Provider (TSP). A CNMP will fulfill the requirements of the NMP described above. Information on CNMPs can be found at:

  • Two full-color maps -
    • An ortho (aerial image) map of your farm showing the property lines, locations of any animal barns/houses, compost bins, litter storage bins, manure lagoons/holding ponds, nearby roads, fields to which litter/manure will be applied, and non-application buffer areas around any bodies of water (streams, creeks, rivers, ponds, wells, sinkholes, springs, wetlands, etc.).
    • topographic map of the farm (1:24000 scale, including a 1-mile radius around the farm) showing property lines.
  • Best management practices/conservation methods used both in production areas, and in fields where waste application occurs.
  • An estimate of the waste storage capacity for the operation. If the facility is using a liquid waste management system, the design of open storage structure must be determined by most recent version of Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Animal Waste Management (AWM) software or procedures approved by the Director of Water Resources.
  • A statement that all clean water is diverted, as appropriate, from the production area. A description of how water is diverted should be included in the NMP.
  • Nutrient budget - this is basically a balance sheet of all manure produced on the farm and all manure spread on the farm or removed from the farm. Application rates for all fields should be based on crop needs, realistic crop yield expectations, and actual manure analysis of nutrient content.
  • Soil test results for phosphorus and potassium for each application field. Samples must be taken at least every five years.
  • Results of manure analysis from within the past year. Annual manure testing is a requirement for all CAFOs. These results must be included with the initial permit application if the farm is in operation. If the farm that is applying for the permit is new and not yet operating, then manure testing results need to be obtained once operation begins. At that point, the manure test results and revised application rates need to be submitted to TDA. Manure test results in subsequent years need to be kept as part of your recordkeeping activities.
  • Results of the Phosphorus Index applied to each field that has a soil test P value of "High" or "Very High". In those situations, this tool will determine whether your application rates will be based on nitrogen or phosphorus.
  • Statement regarding method of dead animal disposal.
  • Closure Plan to be implemented in the event animal production ceases on the site. The Closure Plan must specify that all closure activities will be completed within 360 days after the facility ceases operation. The Closure Plan also needs to note how mortality will be managed.

Note: For those applying for a General State Operating Permit (SOPC, SOPCE, or SOPCI), we highly recommend the use of a checklist to verify that all the required elements for an NMP have been addressed. Please see the link to the checklists below:

Assistance is available from two primary sources:

Your local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) District Conservationist's office, which should be located in the local United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Service Center; and your local University of Tennessee (UT) Agricultural Extension office.

Both of these sources have personnel trained and resources designed to aid your nutrient and liquid waste planning process. For Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMP) or complex NMPs, a certified Technical Service Provider (TSP) may be needed. NRCS will be able to direct you to a certified TSP.

Assistance can also be obtained by contacting Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) or Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) directly.

Note: If you are a poultry producer that exports (sells or gives away) all your litter, TDA has developed a poultry worksheet. (This worksheet is only applicable to 100% export operations, meaning that if you do not apply any litter to land.) Completing this worksheet will fulfill the requirements of an NMP for CAFO permitting. (At this time, the worksheet will not meet the requirements of a CNMP as required for FSA loans.) Please remember to include the other required items (e.g. Notice of Intent, Declarations to Nutrient Management Plan, Maps: ortho and topo).

All CAFO permits in Tennessee are issued by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).However, all nutrient management plans are reviewed and must be approved by Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA). TDA works with producers to achieve plans that meet all requirements of the permit. Once approved, the plans are forwarded to TDEC and the permits are issued.

All monitoring, investigating, and, if necessary, levying of fines or other penalties is the responsibility of Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

Operations that obtain a General State Operating Permit (SOPC, SOPCE, or SOPCI) do not have any application fees or Annual Maintenance Fees.

Operations that obtain an National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit or the Individual State Operation Permits (SOPs) do not have an application fees, but they do require an Annual Maintenance Fee of $350 per year.

General State Operating Permits (SOPC, SOPCE, or SOPCI​) are valid for five years from the effective date of the permit. This can be confusing, because the date you receive your Notice of Coverage (NOC) under the SOPC, SOPCE, or SOPCI is NOT the effective date of the permit. The current SOPC and SOPCE became effective on August 1, 2015, and will expire on July 31, 2020. This means that all SOPC and SOPCE NOCs expire on July 31, 2020 whether you received them today or a year from now, unless your NMP does not cover the entire permit coverage period. (For example, if your NMP is written for August, 2015 through July, 2017, your permit will expire on July 31, 2017 unless you submit a revised NMP to cover the remainder of the permit coverage period.) The SOPCI permit became effective on September 1, 2016, and the coverage will expire on August 31, 2021.

Individual permits, the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and the Individual State Operating Permit (SOP) expire five years from the date of issuance stated on the permit.

You can report suspected cases of animal feeding operations (AFOs) and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) noncompliance to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) at (888) 891-8332. TDEC is responsible for performing investigations, determining if an operation is operating out of compliance, and pursuing enforcement actions (when appropriate). Tennessee Department of Agriculture (TDA) has no regulatory authority to initiate enforcement actions against an operation or its owner; however, TDA will assist TDEC when requested, and attempt to help small AFO operators (non-CAFOs) with regulatory compliance support.

Citizen Water Quality Complaints Website:

Related Links