Callaway County residents pass around anti-hog farm petition

Wednesday, July 2, 2014 | 10:16 p.m. CDT; updated 7:47 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2014

COLUMBIA — A group of Callaway County residents opposed to a planned hog farm began circulating a petition Wednesday.

The group of 40 to 50 residents formed Friends of Responsible Agriculture in late June, farmer and organizer Jeff Jones said, to demonstrate opposition to Horstmeier Farms selling 20 acres to Iowa-based Eichelberger Farms.

Eichelberger Farmsplans to construct three buildings on the property that would house more than 10,000 hogs. It would also require the construction of underground manure storage pits. The land is just south of Interstate 70 near Kingdom City.

"We would like people to see that we need to be respectful to everybody," Jones said. "We need to make livings that are respectful to our neighbors."

Friends of Responsible Agriculture will go door-to-door around the neighborhood for about 10 days to collect signatures for the petition, Jones said. Jones did not have a specific goal for the number of signatures, just as many as they could muster.

Concerns cited in the petition are:

  • The adverse impact of out-of-state corporate farming on local agriculture,
  • Residents' health,
  • Air and water pollution,
  • Lower property values,
  • Loss of community values and neighborliness that include reciprocity, respect, honesty and shared identity, and
  • Diminished quality of life.

Jones said the petition will be sent to Horstmeier and Eichelberger farms, along with a letter from the group's attorney.

Darren Horstmeier, owner of Horstmeier Farms, had no comment. Horstmeier Farms currently grow soybeans, corn and a couple thousand pigs, according to previous Missourian reporting

Shirley Kidwell, Friends of Responsible Agriculture's secretary, hopes the petition tells the Horstmeiers, Eichelbergers, the Callaway County Commission and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources that a lot of people oppose the hog farm.

"It will tell them simply the way we feel," she said. "We can have our voices heard."

Kidwell's farm is about a mile away from the Horstmeier's, and she said she and her family have been affected by the odor for 15 years. Her farm is only 2,500 feet from the proposed site. She also fears damaging runoff from the manure produced there.

Previous attempts at change

Callaway County residents have complained about the plan multiple times. An open forum was hosted June 10, but Eichelberger Farms sent no representative, and many questions about the hog farm were left unanswered.

After the forum, Jones said he spoke with Eichelberger Farms owner Dave Eichelberger, who told him the company will continue with its plans to build the farm.

Eichelberger has not responded to multiple requests for interviews. Jones said Eichelberger told him the petition will not affect his decision, either.

Friends of Responsible Agriculture then hired a lawyer, Ann Hagan of Hagan & Maxwell LLC, in Mexico, Mo., to advise the group on how to oppose the farm. County government is powerless to stop the hog farm because Callaway County has no planning and zoning laws.

Hagan said she helped revise the wording of the petition, but writing it was the group's idea. She said her main job is to advise the group on pursuing legal action based on an agreement signed by the Horstmeiers and multiple neighbors 15 years ago. Hagan was the attorney in the matter then, as well.

The agreement states "(the Horstmeier's) agree that they will not construct, operate, expand or in any way participate in the operation of any concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) or animal processing facility (APF) located within five miles of the existing Callaway County facility."

Friends of Responsible Agriculture can sue Horstmeier Farms if the family-run business sells the land to Eichelberger Farms, Hagan said, because the agreement is binding to "all heirs, assignees or purchasers of the (Horstmeier's) facility and the homeowners property located in immediate vicinity of the (Horstmeier's) facility."

Kidwell, who was among those who signed the agreement, said the petition is just one action the group is taking to stop the farm.

"We will also be pursuing action through the agreement to stop the facility," she said.

A waiting game

Until an action is taken — whether it be Eichelberger Farms submitting a nutrient management plan to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources or Friends of Responsible Agriculture submitting the petition to the Callaway County Commission — the county government cannot do anything about the issue, Presiding Commissioner Gary Jungermann said.

"Right now it just comes down to a waiting game," he said.

The county has no planning and zoning laws or any health ordinances in place regarding animal waste, he said, so there are no local regulations to block the farm. Eichelberger would have to comply with state and federal regulations, though, by submitting a plan for how it will manage hog waste.

Jungermann said that if enough opposition is raised, the commission might consider taking action.

"But even if they give us the petition with 1,000 signatures on it, that doesn't mean something will happen tomorrow," he said.

Jungermann said the county could form a committee of residents who would be charged with researching the issue and writing an ordinance to regulate confined animal feeding operations. The plan would be subject to commission approval. That process could take months.

"Right now we're staying open-minded about the issue," he said.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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