Dave Luers feels like he has been hit from both sides.
On top of hog prices that are the lowest in 26 years, he is now faced with new environmental regulations that threaten the very livelihood of D&D Farms near Holyoke, CO.
Leon Kruse, president of the South Dakota Pork Producers Council (SDPPC), cites similar frustrations over broad restrictions being placed on ag partnerships and contracts in his state.
Actions in both states stem from recent election results in which activists and animal rights groups combined to use the emotional issue of factory farming to impose stifling new initiatives.
Colorado's Amendment 14 Colorado voters by 2 to 1 margins approved Ballot Initiative Amendment 14, which places heavy environmental restrictions on hog farms. Amendment 13, backed by pork producers, seeking a "go slow," scientific approach to new rules, was defeated.
Luers is blunt in his assessment. "We are an industry under attack. And for those people who are not familiar with the Ballot Initiative process, it is very hard to get it changed in the legislature."
He says unless there can be some changes made in the law during the rulemaking process in early 1999, his pork production future looks very bleak. "Unless we can get some help or relief, it is economic devastation for us as pig producers in Colorado," says Luers.
According to Elena Metro, executive director of the Colorado Pork Producers Council, Amendment 14 hits all sizes of producers. It starts at farms with 800,000 lb. of hogs. That equates to 2,963 market hogs at 270 lb. "There are no producers below that figure in the state of Colorado when you figure that the statute also covers production and marketing cooperatives," she explains.
In brief, Amendment 14 requires hog farms be sited one mile or more from an occupied dwelling, from any public or private school and from any incorporated municipality. It calls for additional monitoring wells. It mandates an assessment of 20 cents/head of hog farm capacity for enforcement. And it also provides for civil suits by an entity or individual offended by "hog farm pollution."
But that's not even the best part, says Metro. Amendment 14 requires all anaerobic lagoons be covered by July 1, 1999 with an impermeable cover.
"We figure it will cost us $9.4 million to cover our 24 anaerobic treatment lagoons," says Luers, a co-owner of D&D Farms, a 20,000-sow, farrow-to-finish operation. He points out care was taken to head off odor concerns. The lagoons were built extra large and most are sited 1.5 to 2 miles from any neighbors.
The new requirement to cover their 8.2 million sq. ft. of lagoons poses a physical and financial nightmare, he declares.
The initial cost of $9.4 million for the covers would add $6.43/head to the cost of production, says Luers.
Property taxes on these covers for D&D Farms would be $250,000. Insurance would cost $70,000 - if insurance carriers decide they will provide coverage for the covers.
There are also practical considerations for the very arid climate in northeast Colorado where rainfall averages 14 in. About 4 ft. of water evaporates off the lagoons each year. By covering the lagoons, you lose that source of evaporation and create an extra 4 ft. of effluent that Luers must dispose of.
Tom Wernsman runs a 3,800-head, grow-finish contracting operation just west of the D&D Farms operation. He buys feeder pigs from a cooperative and markets them through Farmland Industries at Crete, NE. To survive, he also runs a 60-head, cow-calf operation and farms 1,500 acres.
On a much smaller scale than his larger neighbor, he faces the same fate. Covering his one, football-field-sized lagoon would cost him $142,000. But if he covers it, he will have excess lagoon water for which he doesn't have an irrigation permit to apply.
Wernsman, 46, the third generation in his family to farm in the area, expanded into hogs a while back so his son could join the farming operation after c ollege graduation next May. With passage of Amendment 14, his son may have to seek another career.
Wernsman, like Luers, is just trying to stay afloat against what he considers unfair odds.
"The election results in Colorado are a good example of how environmental groups, the Humane Society of the U.S. (which went door to door with flyers) and a billionaire (railroad tycoon Phil Anschutz who personally financed almost all of the funding in the campaign for Amendment 14) can influence the vote against pork production," observes Pat McGonegle, vice president of Industry & State Relations at the National Pork Producers Council. The Farmers Union was also involved.
With 60-70% of the state's populace residing in the Denver metro area, urban voters clearly decided this issue, says McGonegle. He adds that Colorado is probably the first state to invoke tough environmental rules on hog farming despite not having recorded a single, major lagoon spill. Both Luers and Wernsman says their counties opposed the new rule. South Dakota
South Dakota's agricultural industry is trying to rebuild its image after a flurry of last-minute, sensationalized ads backed by the state's Farmers Union, rural activists and the People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) led to passage of constitutional amendment "E." The ads made unsubstantiated claims that pollution from factory hog farms in the state could expose consumers to dangerous bacteria known as pfiesteria. The bacteria has sickened people who were exposed to fish infected with the bacteria off East Coast waters, but has not been linked to hog pollution.
"We were just getting off the ground with some excellent sow co-op arrangements and contracting agreements," which provided optimism for the future, says Tom Farnsworth, SDPPC executive secretary.
It was hoped the new arrangements would prop up South Dakota's slipping pork industry. Back in 1988, there were upwards of 7,000 pork producers in the state, about 5,000 association members. Those numbers have dipped to 2,800 pork producers, 2,300 of which are members of the association.
Adding to the problem is the passage of Amendment E, which affects all types of farming in two ways, says Mike Held, South Dakota Farm Bureau.
First, it prevents non-related farmers from operating in business structures such as limited liability companies and limited partnerships.
Second, it eliminates production contracts, not only for livestock, but also for crops. These contracts are relatively new, he says.
In short, the new rule has placed all pending business relationships on hold until details can be sorted out, says Farnsworth.