Unfortunately, this seems to be a growing trend for pork producers. Here are a couple of recent

  • Iowa Select Farms was hit with a $33-million court judgment in a nuisance lawsuit. Four couples sued Iowa’s largest pork producer alleging that the company’s Sac County pork operation produced offensive odors, noxious gases and excessive flies. Company officials argue that they met all of the state regulations and invested significant resources in numerous odor-reducing technologies. They contend the plaintiffs didn’t attempt to work with them on odor issues at the operation. Iowa Select officials deny the allegations and are appealing the judgment.
  • A Sierra Club member filed a complaint against Seldom Rest Farms in Indiana alleging two environmental violations at the operation. The owners disputed the alleged violation of feedlot run-off. A state inspector sampled a nearby creek and detected no manure. The other allegation involved a facility housing 150 market-weight hogs. The owners moved the hogs to a different facility and built an earthen berm in a nearby ditch. As a result of the corrections, state officials took no further action. After the owners corrected the alleged violations, they filed trespassing charges against the complaintant. They contend that the Sierra Club member could not have taken photos of the alleged violations without trespassing on their property.

Why is this happening? “Part of the problem is tied to the aging of rural America,” says Mike Brumm, Extension swine specialist, University of Nebraska. “There is an increasing number of people in rural communities who have fond memories of the past and forget about the smells that go with them.”

However, rural residents aren’t entirely to blame. Livestock producers as a whole haven’t done a good job of educating the public on why and how they raise livestock. For instance, Brumm says that pork producers keep their buildings and property locked up for biosecurity reasons. In return, the uninformed public’s response is that bad things must be going on because your doors aren’t open.

Another important factor is change. Brumm contends producers that want to succeed in pork production, need to be public advocates in their rural communities.

He commends Craig Rowles for having an established plan. This Carroll, Iowa, pork producer and veterinarian not only faced neighboring opposition to his operation, but also has dealt with stringent state environmental regulations.

Rowles began by spending a lot of time and effort selecting sites for his 5,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation. He has lived in the area all of his life and has known the neighboring farmers for many years.

To start, he planned for the facilities to have deep-pit manure storage to avoid using lagoons. Next, he established long-term manure leases with local crop producers.

Then, he used distance-separation requirements as base minimums. He worked to account for prevailing winds in order to reduce odor challenges. Proximity of other pork operations was another consideration. He tried to stay at least one mile from other units.

While selecting the site, he held neighborhood meetings with area homeowners and landowners to answer questions about the operation and to build a foundation of trust. In most cases, the meetings were positive, but he did meet with some negative resistance.

The meetings did offer some opponents fuel for protests. He dealt with organized groups and other individuals concerned about his operation. Some of the activists organized meetings and went so far as to directly pressure both Rowles and his family.

Rowles admits he did lose some friends and acquaintances in the end. Plus, local officials backpedaled from their initial support of his project. Still, he made sure that he was right on all of the issues regarding site selection and facility construction. He hired an attorney and never backed down to the opposition.

Over time, Rowles was able to build his facilities, and the organized resistance eventually moved on to other projects.

“Constructing new pork facilities will generate significant opposition,” says Rowles. “You need to recognize that a battle will ensue and you have to be prepared. It’s important to be a good citizen and neighbor, and participate in the community. Reasonable people will respond over time.”

“Those of us in agriculture have to provide this sort of education or we simply won’t have animal agriculture,” contends Brumm. He also believes the public’s lack of understanding and increased opposition could spill over to crop production.

“Part of the problem is agriculture is not a unified voice,” he says. “There are many groups out there, but who is the real voice for agriculture? Is it the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, American Farm Bureau Federation, Farmers Union or your state livestock association?”

At the local level, he says the pork industry will give you the facts. “Pork production is one of the value-added complements to feed grain,” continues Brumm. “If we lose pork production, what value-added venture will be there to replace it?” That should get crop and other livestock producers’ attention and spur loyalty.

Opponents often have hidden agendas. A big one is jealousy, contends Brumm. There are a lot of neighbor-to-neighbor feuds in rural communities, especially if one producer has the opportunity to expand while another couldn’t make a go of it.

Keep in mind, some opponents do have legitimate concerns. Instead of automatically writing these off, you need to be willing to listen and work with the opposition on their concerns. It may be your future at stake.

“If communities don’t let animal agriculture evolve, they will end up with very large farms and few people,” contends Brumm. Ironically, this is exactly what many opponents are fighting.

There’s no clear-cut answer on this issue. Although a good first step is to become an activist and educator for pork production. 

Don’t Be a Nuisance
Ending up on the wrong end of a nuisance lawsuit is the last thing you want to do. Eldon McAfee is a Des Moines, Iowa-based attorney who has represented a number of Iowa pork producers caught up in such battles.

He has some suggestions for avoiding nuisance litigation.

  • Know the neighborhood. Whether it’s in your own backyard or a new area, realize that you may run into opposition. That’s why site selection is so critical.
  • Meet with neighbors. This gives you the opportunity to educate your neighbors about pork production. It lets you better understand with whom you will be dealing.
  • Respond sincerely to concerns that your neighbors express.
  • Meet or exceed all legal requirements. Hire an attorney to make sure you’re following the proper procedures.
  • Design and construct the operation to minimize its impact on neighbors.
  • Stay current on new technology and management practices.
  • Use management practices and technology to minimize odor.
  • Inject or incorporate manure into the land during application. That includes the end rows where injection equipment may leave manure on top of the ground.
  • Apply manure as far from concerned neighbors as possible.
  • Avoid spilling manure and mud on roads as much as possible.
  • Notify neighbors before applying manure.
  • Consider wind, temperature and other weather conditions before and during manure application.
  • Apply manure as few times as possible. If you need more land to apply manure, consider offering it to your neighbors. Approach them with nutrient test results and be willing to work out an application plan.
  • Consider owning surrounding residences or purchasing and re-selling with nuisance covenants.
  • Keep good records.
  • Instruct employees about good neighbor practices and make sure they follow them.

Putting Pork Losses in Perspective
Iowa is just one example of a state where rural America will take a big hit if neighbors continue to oppose livestock production.

Take a look at what Iowa stands to lose if its pork production dwindles. The Iowa Pork Producers Association reports that:

  • Iowa pork producers accounted for 26 percent of U.S. pork in 2001, making it the No. 1 pork producing state.
  • Mike Brumm, University of Nebraska swine specialist, says on average, each pig from 50 pounds to slaughter weight eats 9 bushels of corn. For the 26.3 million Iowa hogs marketed last year, that equals 2.3 billion bushels of corn.
  • If Iowa had no pigs to eat this corn, what happens to it? Most likely, crop producers would bear the cost of transporting the corn out of state. Some would likely go out of business because of reduced demand, lower prices and increased costs.
  • Cash receipts from pork production account for more than 50 percent of all Iowa livestock receipts, and more than 28.5 percent of total crop and livestock receipts.

As a whole, the Iowa pork industry:

  • Provides more than 86,000 jobs in the state.
  • Contributes nearly $3 billion in payroll income.
  • Represents nearly $12 billion in total economic impact, approximately 5 percent of the state’s overall economic impact.