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Iowa production doesn’t honor independent farmers

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 entity.

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 operations.

JFAN finds it hard to believe this is farming “with integrity for the land, the water, and the community.”

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.

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