Despite the ever-increasing mountain of state regulations and pressure to protect the environment in Iowa, the state's pork industry has clearly met both challenges, according to Eldon McAfee, Des Moines, IA, agricultural attorney.
If you think back a few years when there were many Iowa hog farms that could be characterized by outdoor lots and concrete, and the old saying was “nothing cleans the floors like a 2-in. rain,” then it becomes easy to see how times have changed for the better, McAfee observes.
Today, Iowa pork producers are dealing with an almost dizzying array of state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) rules and legislation including requirements for siting and setbacks, manure management plans, master matrix, etc.
Now manure from hog farms is predominantly contained in concrete pits. Iowa law prohibits a confinement operation from discharging any manure.
And virtually all manure is worked into the ground, no longer surface applied, avoiding runoff and minimizing odor concerns, he says.
Still, Iowa's pork producers face wrongful criticism for water quality issues, charges McAfee, who provides consulting and legal expertise on regulations and litigation for the Iowa Pork Producers Association and individual producers.
“I feel the pork industry in Iowa is the whipping boy for the environmental concerns. It is not accurate or fair to try and balance water quality improvements on the backs of pork producers. If we are not making progress in this state, it is because we are not focusing on other water quality issues that are the real problem,” he adds.
The Iowa DNR conducted a three-year study on air quality, and found just one case where there could have been a violation of air quality standards if a regulation had been in place.
The DNR continues to use stationary monitors to test for hydrogen sulfide and ammonia levels at various sites around the state without finding any indication of problems, he says.
Producers' clean record on the environment and the work of the Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers have worked together to cut the number of nuisance lawsuits filed in Iowa, reports McAfee. Agricultural nuisance lawsuits, which deal mainly with livestock odor issues, attempt to prove that “an operation has caused an unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of property.”
The number of nuisance cases peaked at 13 in 2003, and have dropped back since then.
This year, McAfee counts seven cases pending. He says there are always “other issues in the background” that go beyond the nuisance suit itself, from retired farmers who don't think that a neighbor should expand his hog operation, to criticism of a neighbor who starts feeding hogs for an integrator.
McAfee says many cases surprisingly pit rural farmers against each other.
“We have on file right now a case where a hog farmer is suing a cattle feedlot neighbor alleging odor and water quality issues. We also have several cases where pork producers putting up new buildings are sued for nuisance by neighbors whom they grew up with and went to school with,” he says.
McAfee says the state legislature continues to propose new, onerous laws for livestock. This year, a 42-page proposal included major increases in setback requirements that have no foundation in science. In general, the proposal was for a quarter-mile setback for small operations and a mile setback for large operations.
The environmental rules for livestock in Iowa are supposedly geared to protecting smaller producers McAfee says. But as the rules continue to squeeze more producers, and the focus extends to smaller producers, the rules may have the unintended consequences of driving small producers to become larger as the requirements become nearly the same for both groups.
McAfee can be reached at (515) 237-1188 or by e-mail at EMcAfee@BevingLaw.com.