Big Pig Usurps local control

I spent the summer in Fairfield Iowa. It is a nice midwest small town of 10,000 with the usual shops, John Deere ag equipment dealer, Walmart, corporate grocery store (HyVee) but also some artsy coffee houses and parks and a nice town square. There is an Art Walk the first Saturday of the month when loads of folk come out. There are small farmers and a thriving farmers market community. However Big Ag continues does what it will until????

While I was there the issue of confined animal feeding operations got shoved in our faces. While there were a lot of large confined pig operations in Iowa there were reletively few in the part of Iowa I have come to call a second home to myself. A map that was brought to a meeting on the subject showed a blizzard of colored shapes (indicating Confined pig operations of differing size) in North-west Iowa and many others spread out but less in our part of the state.

Iowa is an ag state. While I have known this generally, it seems to mean more than that there is a lot of farming in Iowa. It also seems to mean that farming (which seems to include raising pigs in confined concrete houses)rights are superior to rural country living folk rights. Iowa is very friendly to big ag. which can be unfriendly to the neighbors of big ag.

Rural water is provided to farms cheaply. Much of this is pulled from aquafirs which are being depleted. Rural ag land is cheep like $2 to $3000 per acre or less with large parcels, and the laws are very lax and favorable to big agriculture. There are regularly ads for GMO seed, Ag chemicals and Ag equipment.

So this summer I got word that a pig enclosure was being constructed not more that one half mile from the rural community of SoFair that I am a part of. There was a tense meeting on site where the owner, Mike Keller, explained that he felt forced to do this as he was struggling financially. The company that he is working with is called Tri-Oak and basically has a compelling sales pitch to farmers that lays out a plan or blueprint to build and operate CAFO’s (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) that will make the farmer good money after initial investments are paid. Excuse that I don’t have the details.

What I got from this experience is that many of the smaller farm land owners are feeling financial pinches and are open to corporate pitches to raise pigs or other corporate ag products like GMO corn or soy. In this case Mr. Keller seemed almost sheepish in his facing the community which was about 90 percent opposed to the operation. He had been given a detailed plan on how to build the plant, get the piglets delivered, feed and raise the animals deal with the waste, deal with sickness issues (biohazard in ag parlance) and finally a market to sell the animals. It is all through a network of large ag business corporations which seem to be congregating in rural states with cheap land and very lax regulations.

We learned that the corporation owns the animals, requires the farmer to raise the animals using certain feed and follow the companies blue print. This guarantees the companies behind the farmers with steady business and profits and shields them from lawsuit as the farmer would first be held liable for water pollution and other violations.

The only thing the farmer really owns in the deal is the land and the pig waste that is gathered in large lagoons and then sprayed raw onto the land to fertilize the GMO corn and soy. This particular farm did not need to be approved by the county or state because it was smaller than the permitting size. This facility was going to have 1250 pigs being raised at a time. Pigs are grown to hundreds of pounds with the largest reaching over 400 pounds. There is obviously a lot of pig waste.

I also learned the the city of Fairfield was just finishing a large upgrade to the waste water treatment plant that was costing about 15 million dollars for the town of 10,000 residents. However this farm and others that are coming into the Jefferson County Iowa do not need to put the pig waste through a waste water treatment plant. If they were it would surely raise the cost of raising pigs but instead they just spray it on the land, raw.

Sometimes a big storm washes the waste lagoons away and into local streams, wells, lakes and rivers such as occured recently when hurricane Michael hit the Carolinas.

While I was in Fairfield, there was a town meeting about another larger pig operation that was being planned in the area to the north of town. This one was going to be a 7500 operation which is probably more waste than the whole town of Fairfield produces.

Several hundred people came out to this meeting, again the vast majority against it. County supervisors did not show up for this community meeting. They had convened a smaller meeting several weeks previous and had heard citizen concerns but said in essence they had no power to stop these developments other than filling out the Master Matrix forms for larger operations. I just read the document for the Master Matrix.

My reading of this “Master Matrix” document shows them to be a fig leaf for rubber stamping these CAFO operations. There are with modest requirements and limits on siting near housing, business and schools. The applicant only has to get a 50% mark to be approved. That was a failing grade last I checked but not for corporations.

The larger operation to the North of Fairfield is owned by Bill Huber partnering with a corporation called Agri-Way. Citizens have been challenging this CAFO. A group called JFAN is the spearpoint for the challenges but the county supervisors, all Republican are not willing to challenge the Huber CAFO project. Here is a link to the JFAN newsletter discussing the issue and the very sad news that the supervisors approved the project despite very real compelling environmental concerns that this project will pollute lake Darling and the lake Darling watershed which is a state park and lake.

This is particularly sad because of a long and expensive project to clean up lake Darling by working with local farmers to conserve the soil better and use more sustainable practices.

Corporate interests continue to infringe upon the commons and on less powerful private interests with more and more dire consequences. What can we do about it?

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