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Hog debate picks up in Pocahontas County
April 13, 2018

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By JOE SUTTER

jsutter@messengernews.net

POCAHONTAS - The Pocahontas County Board of Supervisors is considering a Good Neighbor Policy ordinance regarding new confined animal feeding operations within the county.

About 35 people came to a meeting on April 3 to give input on the proposal. Supervisors heard from livestock producers, representatives of Iowa Select Farms, and others from the county who had complaints about some hog operations.

Nothing was decided, and by the end of the meeting it wasn't clear if anything been resolved. Supervisor Louis Stauter said official action was likely at a future meeting.

But if the policy passed, it wouldn't have any legal weight. Rules on where a confinement building can be built are governed by state law.

"That is another problem, as well. We are all ruled by the master matrix and the rules of the state," said board chair Jeff Ives. "Our resolution would do nothing more than make a suggestion. We understand Palo Alto County has had one, and has had one for a long time. The real gist of this is, if you want to put up a building, please visit with your neighbors."

Nine other counties have told Pocahontas they're interested in doing something similar, said Pocahontas County Auditor Kelly Jepsen.

Multiple livestock producers insisted to the supervisors that they run their farms well, and highlighted the importance of livestock farming to the county. The supervisors agreed, but said not every producer does so well.

"I visited with several pork producers. From what they described to me, they run a fine operation and communicate with their neighbors. That is desirable. However that is not what the supervisors always hear," Ives said.

"We hear disgruntled residents who have dealt with, all of a sudden a pop-up building, or they have problems with manure application."

Many farmers said they wouldn't be farming today if they didn't have hogs.

"A lot of things that were said today are completely inaccurate," one said. "There's a few bad apples that ruined it for everyone."

"That's right," Ives said. "Help us with those guys, will you?"

Hog producer Norm Kinkade said, "Probably the simplest solution is to tell people if you want to put up a hog barn, build it within a half mile of where you live. Then you wouldn't have a problem.

"But then you get the Iowa Selects and others that come in and buy property, and I'm not opposed to that, but they maybe don't have that kind-heartedness all the time," Kinkade said. "If they're within the guidelines of the law, that's all they need to have."

Kinkade said he built his building about 15 years ago, and was confronted by neighbors who didn't want it there.

He was encouraged to come to the supervisors meeting at which his manure management plan was accepted, but "all the neighbors were there. It was kind of like a lynch mob," Kinkade said. "They'd had a petition circulating around of all the people who were against this. Now the closest my barn is to anybody is where my son lives. The only people who aren't related to me, who are just a neighbor, the barn is slightly over half a mile away."

Specifically, the Pocahontas County Supervisors three concerns are separation distances between hog confinements and residences, distances between confinements and tile intakes and grass waterways, and "the current practice of tiling around the foundations of concrete manure storage facilities, and then tiling that into field drainage tile," Ives said.

"Our purpose here is for discussion and exchange of information on these three topics."

The supervisors also want to encourage communication between those who want to build and their neighbors.

Ives said industry experts are predicting an increase in hog finishing plants to be built within 100 miles of the new Prestage Foods of Iowa plant being constructed near Eagle Grove. All of Pocahontas County is within that 100 mile radius.

There have been few confinements using the master matrix recently, Ives said, but a number of operations 2,480 head or less are being built. Any building at 2,500 head or more has to use the state's master matrix.

"Our concern for such facilities are, the minimum separation distances between the facility and occupied residences are less, and there is no requirement of a public hearing," Ives said. "According to the DNR website, a 2,480 head facility requires a minimum separation distance of just 1,250 feet from residences, businesses, churches and schools; 1,875 feet from residences, businesses, churches and schools within an incorporated town, and 875 feet from a public use area."

The site must get a construction design statement and manure management plan approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Ives said. Once that happens, the board of supervisors gets a copy of the MMP, and construction can begin within 30 days.

"It is entirely possible that the arrival of that MMP to the county courthouse may be the first indication that such a facility is to be constructed. This is one of our biggest concerns. Part of our desire in having a Good Neighbor Policy is developing communication between potential hog sites and neighbors," he said.

No specifics for the proposed Good Neighbor Policy were provided at the meeting. Previous reports had suggested the supervisors may seek a separation distance of one mile. That would be too strict, according to Kyle Brinkman, of Rolfe.

The Farm Bureau has found that under current law, 63 percent of the county can't be built on because of separation distances, Brinkman s aid.

"If you go to a half mile, you up it to 86 percent. If you go like what was in the paper, a mile setback would be 94.9 percent of the county that couldn't be built on," he said. "That would basically be around the edges of the county because you wouldn't have to worry about the effect on the people in the neighboring county."

The supervisors insisted they support livestock production.

All five board members were "were raised on a farm with livestock. We all know the business end of a pitchfork or a scoop shovel, dealing with that by-product of agricultural livestock production," Ives said. "We all have friends and some of us have family who currently work in our own livestock production or other businesses related to confined animal feeding operations. We understand and appreciate the economic impact of livestock feeding operations, as well as contributing to the increased use of corn and soybean crops produced in our county. We are in favor of responsible growth of livestock feeding operations."

But in spite of their support, a Good Neighbor Policy which is too restrictive could put a damper on livestock in the county, said Jennifer Crall, director of public affairs at Iowa Select Farms.

Supervisor Clarence Siepker said a lot has changed since he was growing up on the farm. That's one reason he wanted input from producers.

"You guys don't even do things I did when I was growing up, walking beans and shelling corn and all that. There's a lot of changes," Siepker said. "We're just trying to work together to be good neighbors, I guess, somehow talk to each other like we did 40 years ago."

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