Published in the June 19, 2014 Fairfield Ledger
Iowa production doesn’t honor
By Diane Rosenberg, Executive Director of Jefferson County
Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. | Jun 19, 2014
To the editor:
In her May 29 letter,
Tracy Diehl speaks highly of Jefferson County’s farmers, particularly century
farm families. Long time farming families absolutely are the lifeblood of our
county and deserve respect. Quite frankly, Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors,
Inc. (JFAN) wishes there were more century farm families around.
In 1925, Jefferson County
boasted 1,620 independent farms raising 59,637 hogs, according to the USDA.
Today Jefferson County has only 38 operations housing nearly 94,000 hogs,
according to current Iowa DNR figures. There are some additional farms not
tracked by the DNR, and except for a few, all are CAFOs. The average number of
hogs per farm has gone from 37 to 2474!
Where did all the
independent family farms go? Most were painfully forced out of business by
corporations that saw a moneymaking opportunity for shareholders by
industrializing livestock production at the expense of local farming
communities. In JFAN’s opinion, that’s not respectful of farmers.
Ms. Diehl says that 98%
of farms are family owned. What she doesn’t say is that most hog producers are
contract growers. CAFO owners own their buildings under their business
entities, but they don’t own their hogs. Rather, they raise livestock for
corporations in exchange for a negotiated price. Contract growers are legally
considered “workers” required to follow detailed corporate instructions,
according to DNR’s legal counsel.
That’s a far cry from
being an independent family farmer.
Ms. Diehl also extols the
virtue of how today’s farmer “believes in farming with integrity for the land,
the water, and the community.”
If that’s the case, why
do so many hog producers build CAFOs for just under 2500 hogs? That’s the
threshold requiring greater oversight and community input through a construction
permit, public comments, and Master Matrix. The Master Matrix, adopted by 88
counties including Jefferson, calls for increased environmental and community
protection. A 2500+ head hog confinement also requires further separation
distances from residents, schools, and churches.
In fact, Ms. Diehl and
her husband are building a 5,000 head CAFO in Buchanan Township, ignoring the
concerns of numerous neighbors nearby. Instead of applying as one large
confinement, they have applied as two 2480-head CAFOs, each a separate business
When JFAN lodged a DNR
complaint that, as a married couple, their separate CAFOs should be considered
as one under the legal definition of Common Ownership, the DNR’s legal counsel
explained that Ms. Diehl held less than 50% of her LLC. Another family member
holds majority ownership. Because of Iowa Code loopholes, Common Ownership
doesn’t apply. Therefore, the CAFOs may legally stand as two separate
JFAN finds it hard to
believe this is farming “with integrity for the land, the water, and the
Yes, this is Iowa, and
Iowa is an agricultural state. But Iowa law and corporate livestock production
don’t honor independent Iowa farmers, nor do they provide adequate
environmental or quality of life protections. Until we return to a system that
favors Iowa farmers using independent, sustainable methods of animal
production, we dishonor the heritage of those lost century farms.