Hog farm forum leaves mid-Missouri residents with questions

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 | 12:44 a.m. CDT; updated 7:40 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 11, 2014
Callaway County residents gathered in the gymnasium of Hatton-McCredie Elementary School on Tuesday night to hear about a proposed hog farm to be built in Callaway County, south of Kingdom City.

KINGDOM CITY — Mid-Missouri residents packed a school gymnasium to get answers about a proposed hog farm in Callaway County on Tuesday evening.

But after more than two hours, many of the roughly 100 who attended were left with uncertainty about the proposal and fresh questions.

Although attendees spoke for and against the operation, which would house more than 10,000 hogs, representatives from Iowa-based Eichelberger Farms Inc., the company that is seeking to build the farm, were absent from the proceedings.

"I think it answered a lot, but there's still some questions out there," said Nathan Atkinson, who owns a farm less than a quarter mile from the project.

Atkinson has a contract with Eichelberger Farms to use some of the fertilizer produced from the animals. He attended the meeting to see what the public thought of the idea. 

Bill Kessler, who owns land on the border of Callaway and Audrain counties, was drawn mostly out of curiosity about the project.

"I just wanted to see what was going on," he said. He left with uncertainty about the proposal.

The people at the forum heard multiple viewpoints about the project from Don Lehenbauer, who has worked with Eichelberger Farms before; Tim Safranski, a swine breeding specialist with MU Extension; Eric Swafford, an outreach director for the Humane Society of the United States; and Rhonda Perry, program director with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.

Lehenbauer was one of the few people who spoke in favor. He said Eichelberger Farms is a company run by "normal people" who care about the communities it has operations in. 

"They work hard to make operations more user friendly," Lehenbauer said.

He said the company has adjusted building plans on past projects to address complaints from neighbors. Most of their buildings have the air recycle through them to reduce the outside odor, and the manure is kept in underground storage pits instead of lagoons.

But the other invited speakers raised questions about concentrated animal feeding operations, commonly known as CAFOs, and their impact on communities. 

Swafford said family farmers are being pushed out of business by big corporations and that this project would be no different. 

"This is just another move in that direction," he said. 

Perry agreed and said CAFOs don't have a "great history." She said Missouri has one of the smallest percentages of CAFOs in the country with only 520, which make up 0.5 percent of the farms in the state. 

"We should focus on protecting family farms," she said. 

Safranski read answers to questions the community sent to Eichelberger Farms. No representative from the company was at the meeting, which was a major concern for most in attendance, including Jeff Jones, who helped organize the forum.

In public comments, the attendees also raised questions about the odor and the potential runoff from the farm. Dale and Sandy Fischer, who live across the street from the property, said they were incredulous that the project wouldn't cause a foul odor. 

"They told us there wouldn't be a smell when they put the current project in 20 years ago," Dale Fischer said. "But there is." And it's unbearable, he said. 

The current owner, Darren Horstmeier, and his father, Gary Horstmeier, raise a couple thousand pigs in an eight-building facility, in addition to farming corn and soybeans

But the Callaway County Commission doesn't have a legal mechanism to prevent the hog farm from happening, County Commissioner Gary Jungermann said. The county doesn't have planning and zoning laws, and that allows individual farmers to do whatever they want with their land. 

"There is nothing the commission can do," he said.

The open forum, held at Hatton-McCredie Elementary School, was organized by Jones, who owns a neighboring farm, and other members of the community. The proposed operation would be built off State Road HH just south of Interstate 70, on land owned by Darren Horstmeier.

Horstmeier has been in talks with Eichelberger Farms since late winter about selling 20 acres of his more than 1,200-acre property for a confinement hog operation, according to previous Missourian reporting.

The facility would comprise two animal buildings with a total holding capacity of 7,600 sows and 2,720 swine.

A concentrated 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."

CAFOs have been called a public health concern because of the large amount of waste they produce.

John Ikerd, MU professor emeritus of agricultural and applied economics, said most confinement farming companies bring employees from outside 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.

Ikerd said the major concerns with these operations are the manure and smells produced. The odor from a 2,500-head swine CAFO can travel as far as 2 to 3 miles away, Ikerd said. With a 10,000-head facility, the smell will go even farther. This often leads to decreased property values, he said.

Supervising editor is Edward Hart.

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Melinda Hemmelgarn June 11, 2014 | 8:18 a.m.

This is really a tragedy. I spoke at length with Mr. Horstmeier after last night's forum, and he admitted that he felt stuck between a rock and a hard place. The majority in the audience appeared to recognize how corporate agribusiness is robbing family farmers of true independence.
While there may be no zoning restrictions and no health ordinances in Callaway County, when an individual's activities infringe on their neighbors' quality of life, AND reduce the value of their property, that sets up hostility in rural communities.
Hortstmeier knows he will create strife with neighbors. BUT he doesn't know how to get out of a bad situation. Perhaps what we as residents of the area could do is come together to find and create alternatives for Mr. Horstmeier, as many successful small MO hog farmers have done.
As a dietitian, I work with closely with consumers who consistently tell me they prefer purchasing food directly from their local farmers. They want a relationship with the person who produces their food.
There is a growing demand for (and short supply of) locally raised, antibiotic- and GMO-free food -- just look at the growth of farmers' markets and the boom in organic sales despite the economic downturn.
I hope Mr. Horstmeier will reach out to the MO Rural Crisis Center and fellow independent hog farmers for their help in finding alternatives. Bringing CAFOs to our region, hurts tourism. Further, antibiotics used in CAFO production introduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria to our communities and hospitals. See for more information.
Finally, just a note of clarification: Mr. Windmann and I were having a "lively debate" but I wouldn't say we were "arguing." We actually agreed that people need living wages to pay farmers for the "good" food they produce.

(Report Comment)
Mark Foecking June 11, 2014 | 8:35 a.m.

I would say probably if you put it to a vote, that most people would select cheap food over "good" food (whatever that is). The fact that farmers market and organic sales are booming means 1) the recession isn't affecting those who buy them, 2) many people worry more about the food they eat than driving to the market to get it - driving is far riskier.

I suspect organic and free range meat is only a couple percent of all meat sold, and it's because most people value convenience and price over how their food is raised. When McDonalds and BK start offering organic burgers, then you'll have something. I'm not sure that's ever going to happen.


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