Some megafarms slipping past Missouri laws

Sunday, December 21, 2008 | 7:56 p.m. CST

KANSAS CITY — Some livestock companies might have found a way to slip their farms past the state’s pollution regulations.

Rather than building their own megafarms, companies are working with several smaller farms, each of which has fewer animals than would trigger the state pollution rules, The Kansas City Star reported Sunday. The practice is legal, but it could create pollution problems because the farms generate large amounts of waste.

The Missouri Department of Natural Resources said no one knows exactly how many farms with confined animals and waste lagoons aren’t being closely regulated because they don’t fall under state law.

“The concern is when you take them all into account, it does add up to a substantial amount of manure that has to be managed,” said Derek Steen, the Department of Natural Resources’ agriculture chief with the water protection program.

Leslie Holloway of the Missouri Farm Bureau acknowledged that companies aren’t building their own megafarms anymore and said there is nothing wrong with corporations contracting with local farmers.

The state has about 450 of the larger farms — called Class 1 — that require permits and extensive waste-management plans. Smaller ones — Class 2 — have few pollution regulations.

For example, state law categorizes a factory farm that has more than 3,000 sows as Class 1. It must have a permit to operate, annual inspections, setbacks from streams, and buffers to protect residents from the odors and pollution.

A Class 2 with 2,499 sows or fewer can begin operating no matter how close it is to a residence, and it doesn’t have inspections or many of the other requirements.

Steen said Class 2 factory farms aren’t supposed to discharge pollution into streams. But he acknowledged that state regulators normally would not know if laws were violated unless someone complained.

“It’s an honor system to an extent,” he said. “And there are some who don’t do a good job, and some who do.”

Nowhere in the state is the battle over Class 2 factory farms being fought harder than in Barton County in southwest Missouri, where more than 30 residents last month filed a lawsuit against Synergy LLC over odors.

Since 2005, Sully, Iowa-based Synergy has contracted with hog farms below the Class 1 threshold . Synergy said it has about a dozen contract farmers in Barton County.

“If we win, every little township will be taking this up for protection,” said Gregory Harris, a fifth-generation farmer who opposes factory farms. “If we lose, I think Missouri will be overrun by hog operations.”

Eldon McAfee, an attorney for Synergy, told The Joplin Globe after the lawsuit was filed that he has found the company “to be conscientious about environmental compliance and respecting the rights of neighbors."

“We regret this lawsuit has been filed, and we will do everything we can to reach a resolution that respects the rights of neighbors and the rights of family farmers who formed this company,” he said.


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Mike Sykuta December 22, 2008 | 12:09 p.m.

The only thing surprising about this phenomenon is that people--particularly regulators, policy makers, and the media--seem to be surprised.

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