Bayfield County REASONS TO SUPPORT THE CAFO MORATORIUM
Greetings from Reicks’ Country Iowa (Lawler, Jericho, Spillville, Protivin, Alta Vista, New Hampton, North Washington, Saude)
To the Bayfield County Board
This is a report from the second day of our weeklong excursion in Iowa CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operation) country.
We have met with local residents in restaurants, libraries, gas stations, convenience stores, bars, county government buildings, etc. in order to attempt to get a picture of the local area. Some of these have been individual encounters, others meetings arranged through word of mouth. We’ve appreciated the openness with which the local residents have spoken to us. We were surprised to find that hog farmers, their employees, and the families of these individuals have been very willing to discuss the topic of CAFOs. Many shared information with us concerning the history of the area, their work experiences, their own farming practices and those being employed by owners of CAFOs. Overall there has been a growing consensus and sentiment, the majority of residents wished that CAFOs had not been implemented. The majority of discussions focused on the following issues that have impacted the area.
We were surprised to find many Iowans had knowledge of Bayfield County. Some had already investigated maps of the area surrounding the proposed farm.
Hog farmers warned us to be judicious about the implementation of a large-scale hog operation in close proximity to a wetland. Their opinion was quite blunt “it’s not possible”; either there exists a thriving aquatic community, or an industrial agricultural community, never both.
Iowa farmers believe that stopping the proposed Badgerwood farm before it begins is the only solution. So far we have been warned that Reicks View Farm (RVF) will not stop with only a single facility, and would soon be expanding. This is a determination made by Reicks’ neighbors as result of RVF’s past practices.
Canadian pigs are imported as “feeder pigs” at a weight of about 10 pounds. The proximity of the Badgerwood CAFO to Canada may be attractive to expanding and/or enhancing this operation. These little “feeder pigs” are currently being imported to Iowa. Installing a CAFO operation in upper Wisconsin may grant RVF a cost advantage.
Smell: Reports of negligible odors surrounding CAFO facilities have been greatly exaggerated. Admittedly we have not been able to tour the inside of one of these operations. However, we have stopped outside a few dozen different sites; some of these operations lacked significant odor, others were merely tolerable, most were distinctly noticeable. Locals stated that the winter air reduces degree of air pollution from CAFOs; spring and foggy weather exacerbate the air pollution. They all agreed that no matter what CAFOs stink and hog shit stinks.
“Pig Dust” is a problem that develops within facilities. There were statements from family members of the RVF employees that respirators are not readily available. The concern is for the employees’ health.
As with human, close confinement of large populations can have negative health impacts. The pigs’ high concentration of waste and proximity to one another contributes to the spread of disease.
Real Estate values for properties are partially evaluated based on proximity to CAFO facilities. Appraised value within a two-mile radius of a CAFO drops. Those within a single mile drop even more so. Many residents find their properties become unlivable due to stench. Rural residents and small farm owners live in constant fear of CAFOs being installed nearby.
Pig manure may be spread within close proximity of someone’s home (we’ve heard reports of 750-1250 ft). In the past it was common practice for farmers to leave their neighbors a buffer of land surrounding living quarters. This mentality is most often lost in large-scale industrial farming.
Disposal of manure through the injection process has been problematic. A common practice is to saturate soils with liquid manure, which may rise to the surface. Usually the manure cannot be contained to surrounding areas. The storage requirements exceed the capacity of nearby acreage. Pig poop then gets moved to other sites for injection. However, manure injection is dependent upon the season. When the ground freezes hog farmers are usually unable to inject waste under the soil. During these periods manure accumulates in holding tanks under hog facilities. These pits may be insufficient and often fill completely. At this point farmers are forced to move manure to other areas. Liquid manure from CAFOs is sometimes pumped into trucks and then transported to another CAFO facility for storage.
Farmers in Iowa employ a system of drains and drainage tile to control irrigation. This system allows runoff to be drained to areas of lower elevation. This is particularly useful when it rains. The excess water could result in damage to crops. The tile is laid three feet under the soil. Drains are inserted in depressions to funnel the water into the drain tile and away from valuable cropland.
The conflict between manure injection and drainage tile is twofold. First, the manure may only be injected into the upper 3 feet of topsoil without interfering with tile. Second, rainfall after recent injection results in manure being carried through the drainage tile. This water then ends up in drainage ditches and is carried into rivers and streams. Concentrations of E. coli and other contaminants increases after extended periods of rainfall.
It needs to be noted that manure is often transported by truck to fields for injection at night. CAFO operators hope trucks will be less noticeable under cover of darkness. However, despite the time of day residents report the obnoxious smell of pig manure as the trucks drive by.
Like much of American agriculture a system of seasonal employment has developed around the CAFO industry. Migrant labor often is turned to because of the cost incentive. Lower wages and subsistent living conditions become standard practice in an industry based on cutting corners. We’ve heard reports that South African workers are employed seasonally as well as Mexican Americans. Work visas are offered to laborers coming out of South Africa to work on large farms in Iowa. Most Iowa residents were more concerned about the wage and living condition disparity of these workers more than loss of jobs.
The proposed Badgerwood facility would require feed and lots of it. Iowa farmers speculate that the feed may be imported from Iowa, the Twin Ports or from some other foreign area. Outside of Jericho, RVF runs their own feed operation. They still purchase from other local suppliers, but their industry has grown to the point of supplying a percentage of its own food.
The feed, manure, and hogs all require transportation. All of these resources are transported on public roads. While it is the actions of private companies that wear out roadways, it is the duty of local towns to restore these roads. We received reports that the heavy equipment results in major damage to local roads. Residents complained of wear to roadways, excessive dust, and truck traffic. These roads often cannot be closed because of the needs of livestock. Once a CAFO is operational a moral responsibility to provide feed and remove manure requires that roads remain open.
In closing, our meetings have been open; farmers and community members were very willing to express their concerns and disgust with CAFOs. . At this point Iowa counties, communities and people feel powerless against agricultural industry. As in Wisconsin, local town governments have been stripped of decision-making power and State government is unwilling to take action. Iowa’s DNR is ineffective in protecting water resources from CAFOs. EPA Region 7 is no better. Some farmers told us they have lost pride in farming due to CAFO operations. It is no longer the mom and pop operations many think of when imagining farms. The individual farmer’s way of life has been destroyed
Reports of inedible fish due to runoff from farming activity are wide spread. Many rivers and streams no longer have fish that are safe to eat. A community member who is a long time gardener expressed her concerns as to the decrease of bee, birds, and insect populations in the past 30 years. Many long-term residents expressed dismay at the depletion of forest land and are very nostalgic about the life they once enjoyed. Now they live in fear of a CAFO moving next to their residence or farm.
More to follow, and special thanks to the Iowa farmers who are appalled at the notion to bring pigs to such a water rich and sensitive environment. All were amazed by the immediate threat posed to Lake Superior, the wetlands, and watersheds.
Respectfully submitted by,
Frank Koehn and Neil McClelland