When Bruce Raasch looks back on it all, hints of potential trouble loomed before an arsonist’s blaze engulfed his farm shop one winter night in 2006, dangerously close to his hog buildings and his home.
“We weren’t aware of the warning signs, but it’s very important for pork producers to be aware of ag violence,” says Raasch, 60, a custom feeder who has been farming nearly 40 years by
For an isolated country road, a lot of strange traffic had been passing by the Raasch’s farm, especially at night. On the Sunday morning prior to the fire on
After the problem was fixed, things quieted down until that night. After Raasch left his farm shop around and went into the house, he noticed the sound of a vehicle speeding up the gravel road and heading off to the west. When a strange noise outside caught his attention less than 15 minutes later, Raasch was shocked to see flames shooting from the shop. The 50-foot by 90-foot building, along with thousands of dollars worth of tractors, equipment and tools, were destroyed by a blaze that burned within 100 feet of the family’s five swine barns.
When the fire marshal arrived the next day and confirmed this was an arson case (based on evidence, including Raasch’s oxyacetylene torch, which had been turned on full blast near the fire’s origin), neighbors and community members were as shocked as the Raasch family. Area law enforcement investigations found no evidence of animosity toward the well-respected farm family. In recent years, however, an activist group has been active in this part of northwest
“Whoever did this knew what they were doing,” Raasch says, adding that no one has been charged in the crime. “I asked why the vandals didn’t hit our hog barns. The fire marshal said people who target farmers don’t want to harm the animals, but they will try to cripple your operation.”
Vandals escalate violence levels
Farm families who raise livestock are reporting increased incidences of ag violence directed toward them, their family members and their property, according to the Coalition to Support
“These families are just trying to make a living by farming, but we’re hearing more reports of violence or threats against them from a variety of sources,” says Aaron Putze, the coalition’s executive director. “That’s why we’re looking at new ways to educate the public about modern agriculture and what rural living involves.”
Ongoing cases of violence against pork producers highlight the need for action. On
“People don’t understand modern pork production,” says Andy Muff, 28, who recently married and plans to build a new home on his farm. “When misinformation and rumors get started, this escalates anger toward the ag industry.”
In Muff’s case, a local newspaper reported that the young farmer’s new swine barn would hold 25,000 finishing pigs. To refute this misinformation, Muff met with the Ventura City Council, along with other area city councils and local citizens. After acknowledging their concerns about air and water quality and sharing science-based research, he stressed his commitment to responsible livestock production and explained how a modern pork operation is a long-term asset to the area. The young farmer and his family also hosted an open house at his new swine barn last October — nearly 300 area residents attended. Since then, the Muffs have reported no ag violence problems.
“Life has gone on, and these episodes haven’t depressed my enthusiasm for swine production,” says Muff, whose closest neighbors live about 3,000 feet from his swine barn. “Farming is my future.”
To reduce the chances of ag violence, Muff offers some advice to pork producers.
Do your research. If you’re thinking about building a new swine barn, talk to your neighbors ahead of time, site the barn properly and investigate the latest ways to control odor.
Muff worked with Steven Hoff, an Iowa State University ag engineer, on air modeling programs to ensure that the new barn’s location would minimize any impact on the neighbors and the surrounding communities. In addition to planting trees near the barn, Muff continues to investigate pit additives, biofilters and other tools to limit odor.
Respect others. Realize that your neighbors will be concerned about odor and property values. “People have the right to know what’s going on, so respect that,” Muff says. “Even though it’s not always easy to remain calm, always conduct yourself professionally, and others will respect you in the end.”
Contact law enforcement, when necessary. Even if a suspicious incident seems trivial, document everything. Prepare a description of the incident, including when and where it occurred. By documenting issues and details, law enforcement officials might be able to identify patterns that you would easily overlook. Whenever you suspect any illegal activity, be sure to contact local law enforcement as soon as possible.
Ag violence is not exclusive to
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