Published in the October 10, 2013 issue of the Fairfield Ledger
This guest editorial was written in response to a letter submitted by Jordan Morris in the October 3, 2013 edition of the Fairfield Ledger about his 1200 head confinement on Fruitwood Boulevard in Locust Grove Township.
Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. (JFAN) applauds and supports industrious young men like Jordan Morris who want to work in the farming profession. With 55 the average age of farmers in the US, it’s essential that more young farmers get started in the business.
JFAN would differ with Mr. Morris’ definition of farming, though, as described in his letter published in last week’s Fairfield Ledger. JFAN supports traditional, sustainable farming methods that give livestock access to the outdoors, allows manure to be aerobically composted, and doesn’t use low dose antibiotics for disease prevention or growth.
Mr. Morris is building a 1200-head hog confinement in Locust Grove Township. The hogs will be confined indoors in close proximity to each other, standing on slatted concrete floors so their waste products will fall into a six-foot underground pit. The manure in that pit will putrefy, creating noxious odors, toxic gases and irritating particulates – over 300 volatile organic compounds - which large exhaust fans will blow out of the building, otherwise the hogs will die.
People living next to hog confinements breathe in that air and experience a host of physical ailments including wheezing, asthma, nausea, diarrhea, eye irritation, excessive coughing, the list goes on, all documented in many peer-reviewed research studies by leading universities.
This is not farming. It’s the industrialization of agriculture, and it comes at a great price to individuals, to communities, and to the environment.
That is what brought neighbors together at a meeting with Mr. Morris several weeks ago so they could express their deep concerns and ask him to site his operation away from any residents. The neighbors invited JFAN to the meeting to facilitate the discussion between themselves, Mr. Morris, and Nick Biggs, a member of TriOak Food’s Marketing and Relations Team, who indicated that he had advised Mr. Morris in the development of this project.
The meeting was cordial, and at no time in the discussion did JFAN threaten to sue Mr. Morris. JFAN is a nonprofit, educational foundation that provides informational support to neighbors. JFAN doesn’t sue anyone.
The neighbors wanted to come to a mutually beneficial agreement with Mr. Morris and encouraged him to find another property that wouldn’t impact any neighbors. Some areas were even suggested. They also shared that if the noxious odors and airborne chemical emissions from the CAFO were to travel onto their property and damage their quality of life, disrupt their businesses, endanger their health, and devalue their property, that could result in their taking action to stop the confinement – including a lawsuit – which everyone wished to avoid.
Follow-up friendly discussions took place between one of the neighbors and Mr. Morris, and an agreement to relocate the CAFO, with some of the terms that Mr. Morris requested, was nearly worked out. However, without further negotiation, Mr. Morris decided to move ahead with the confinement even though the concerns of the neighbors hadn’t changed.
Mr. Morris says he is following all the guidelines established by the Department of Natural Resources, Iowa laws, and Jefferson County mandates. However, DNR regulations and Iowa laws governing agriculture are very weak, and Iowa’s waterways are among the worst in the nation.
And Mr. Morris’ confinement is only 1200 hogs – 50 less than the 1250 threshold that would require him to file an application with the DNR. The guidelines are minimal for a 1200-head confinement. There are no separation distances required between his facility and any residence, business, church, school, or public use area. A manure management plan that would record fields receiving manure from a confinement doesn’t even need to be submitted.
Recently, the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA) launched a $30 million campaign to offset criticism about factory farming. In JFAN’s opinion, the letter Mr. Morris submitted presents a public relations spin that the corporate livestock industry wants the public to embrace. There are medical and scientific facts to the contrary. This is not the reality of factory farming, and people shouldn’t be fooled.
Jordan Morris is an intelligent, bright, likeable young man, and JFAN would like him and others like him to carry on the tradition of farming. But we encourage Mr. Morris to farm, to raise hogs using sustainable, traditional methods that don’t create harm for people living nearby. Because that’s, really, what being a good neighbor is all about.