CALLAWAY COUNTY — A large proposed hog farm has some Callaway County residents worried about the environmental and economic consequences to the surrounding area.
Kingdom City farmer Darren Horstmeier has been in talks with Iowa-based Eichelberger Farms Inc. since late winter about selling 20 acres of his more than 1,200-acre property for a confinement hog operation, Horstmeier said. He and his father, Gary Horstmeier, farm corn and soybeans and raise a couple thousand pigs in an eight-building facility on State Road HH south of I-70 in Kingdom City.
The proposed sale is just about being more efficient with the land he owns, Darren Horstmeier said.
"In today's age you have to grow, or if you're not growing, you're getting smaller, you're going backwards," he said. "You either have to expand or become more efficient. That's really what it's all about, being more efficient."
A confinement hog operation is defined by the Environmental Protection Agency as an operation that has more than 2,500 swine confined on site for more than 45 days a year and that "discharges manure or wastewater into a natural or man-made ditch, stream or other waterway."
Confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, have been called a public health concern because of the large amount of waste they produce.
The facility would comprise two animal buildings with a total holding capacity of 7,600 sows and 2,720 swine. It would also require the construction of underground manure storage pits.
Jeff Jones, 47, whose farm neighbors Horstmeier's, is among those concerned about the impact the operation could have on the surrounding area. He and several other community members have organized an open forum on June 10 to inform residents and allow them to voice their questions and concerns.
Jones said he and other residents are concerned about the project's potential impact on the water table and the odor created by the pigs and manure, in addition to an increase in traffic around the farm caused by trucks transporting manure.
In May, neighbors who lived within 3,000 feet of the proposed facility received letters from the Pinnacle Group, a consulting firm representing Eichelberger Farms, informing residents of Eichelberger's intention to build the hog farm nearby, Jones said.
Jones, who lives at 3605 Country Road 230, said the number of people who knew about the project didn't exceed much past those who got the letters until the media started covering the issue.
One of the purposes of the open forum will be to get the news out to other community members, Jones said.
"We're just guessing (about the project)," Jones said. "We need (Eichelberger Farms) to come explain the sow complex."
Jones said Eichelberger Farms told him a local representative will be at the meeting.
Darren Horstmeier said he also will attend the meeting.
"We want to go and explain what we can," he said.
Jones also invited speakers, including a representative from the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, to discuss statistics and research about similar projects that have occurred in region. But the main focus will be hearing what the Eichelberger Farms' representative has to say, Jones said.
"I just want them to tell the community what's going on and the positives and negatives of the project," he said.
Eichelberger Farms could not be reached for comment.
Having Eichelberger Farms in the neighborhood will be a good thing for the community, Darren Horstmeier said, noting it would add 25 jobs to the local economy. The company hires from local universities, putting graduates in training right away, he said.
But if patterns run true, the jobs might not go to local people. John Ikerd, MU professor emeritus of agriculture and applied economics, said most confinement farming companies bring employees into the community instead of hiring locally.
He said that confinement farms can create economic disparity in communities and drive smaller hog farms out of business because there are fewer opportunities for them to enter the market.
Confined animal feeding operations not only hurt the economy, but they also hurt the environment, Ikerd said.
Eichelberger Farms' project would bring more than 10,000 hogs to the area, four times more than the amount of hogs needed to define the operation as a CAFO.
"A CAFO consists of 2,500 head of swine," Ikerd said. "Anything more than that is big."
Ikerd said the major concerns with these operations are the manure and smells produced. He said manure becomes less valuable the farther it has to be transferred away from the operation for sale so, in many cases, there is a tendency to over-apply the manure to the surrounding farm ground. Both the process of transferring the manure and over-applying it will cause strong odors in the area.
He said a decrease in surrounding property values can be linked to the presence of a CAFO in the area. The odor from a 2,500-head swine CAFO can travel between 2 to 3 miles, Ikerd said. With a 10,000-head facility, the smell will go even farther.
The conflict surrounding the installation of this operation isn't new to the Horstmeiers, Darren Horstmeier said. Twenty years ago, Gary Horstmeier tried to sell some of the family's land for pig farming to a different company. The proposed plan included 80 buildings for hogs, which would have held about 50,000 pigs, and neighbors were really upset, Darren Horstmeier said.
"Initially, we didn't think it would be that bad," he said. "But dad said 'I'm not going to do this.'"
Horstmeier said his father, concerned about upsetting his neighbors, turned down somewhere between $2.5 and $3 million.
The new operation would be much smaller, Darren Horstmeier said. He has not yet sold the land to Eichelberger Farms, but has signed "some contracts" with the company, he said. He would not elaborate further, and said he doesn't know the company's timeline for building the facilities.
"We're not selling, we're not moving," he said. "It's just 20 acres."
The public meeting will be held 7 p.m. at Hatton-McCredie Elementary School's gymnasium. Jones said everyone is welcome to come.
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