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JFAN Editorial

We're Playing the Long Game

by Diane Rosenberg

President and Executive Director


This summer three new CAFOs hit Jefferson County, illustrating many of the issues with Iowa’s weak factory farm laws and community frustration with the current regulatory system. Understandably, I’ve heard a number of people voicing concerns about the direction of Jefferson County, expressing fears that the county is becoming inundated with CAFOs.


I’ve worked with JFAN for 11 years now, and I would like to offer my perspective: the situation is not dire. The fact is Jefferson County does pretty well overall in the state. 


Because Iowa law creates a friendly open door environment for factory farms, it’s inevitable that Jefferson County is going to get some CAFOs every year. Every county does.


But the number of CAFOs any county gets often depends on community response. The stronger a community pushes back, the less inviting a location may appear to a potential CAFO developer.

We see this in counties like Washington and Keokuk, where there isn’t a strong organization like JFAN or large community outcry. In such counties, it’s easy for CAFOs to be built without much attention or resistance.


But it’s different in Jefferson County. Because of JFAN’s strong presence and the resulting educated response of community members, Jefferson County has not been hit with unfettered CAFO development. We’ve actually had fewer confinements proposed this year than in previous years. 


Here are the numbers: Despite that Jefferson County is a prime location for CAFO development (economic efficiencies offered by the Ottumwa slaughterhouse and several area feed mills), this year only 4 CAFOs were reported to the DNR (1250+ hogs) and through other means, we discovered three small ones (under 1250 hogs) that don’t require reporting. Compare that to 16 new CAFOs (1250+ hogs) in Washington and Keokuk Counties reported to the DNR this year. It’s anyone’s guess how many small CAFOs were also built  in those counties in 2018, but we suspect a lot, and this is why.


Numerous CAFOs in many counties take advantage of the LLC loophole and build multiple adjacent small confinements under 1250 hogs under different LLC names, skirting common ownership regulations. For example, in Washington County, overall there are 203 known CAFOs (1250+ hogs), but according to a list obtained from their Assessors’ Office, there are 1400 CAFOs - small and large - taking a property tax exemption for having a confinement. That’s over 20 times more CAFOs than in Jefferson County!


I hear from numerous sources that many potential CAFO owners are dissuaded from building in Jefferson County because of JFAN’s watchful eye and the strong response of many Jefferson County residents. We saw how many residents spoke boldly this summer against the Huber, Greiner and Keller CAFOs. This is a very good thing if you want to protect Jefferson County’s quality of life, but not a fertile environment if you’re looking to easily and quietly build a CAFO.


We are certainly concerned that the Daniels Site in the Lake Darling watershed may lead to additional Agri-Way Partner CAFOs in the county. However, and this is significant, Penn Township where the Huber CAFO is located has the greatest concentration of CAFOs in Jefferson County. It’s an area where a good number of residents are either involved with the industry or are typically less likely to oppose new confinements.


I have a strong hunch Huber was unpleasantly surprised by the enormous vocal opposition mounted against the Daniels Site in a location where he probably thought he wouldn’t encounter opposition. 


This strong response of Jefferson County residents may prove to deter Huber and Agri-Way Partners from considering any other locations in Jefferson County. That’s the value of a well-educated community on CAFO issues. This is the value of JFAN’s community education program.


Protecting Jefferson County from rampant CAFO growth is a long game, and Jefferson County is winning it. But to continue to win, we must all stay engaged. Together, JFAN and concerned Jefferson County residents have to continue to work hard together and work smart to show that we value our quality of life and don’t want infringing CAFOs. 


We need to continue to address the threats of unwanted CAFOs with strength and resolve. We need to continue to work on the state level to push for stronger protections and a statewide moratorium – a temporary pause on new CAFO development until we have less than 100 water impairments – that the Iowa Alliance for Responsible Agriculture advocates.  


Our partnership – JFAN and Jefferson County residents – is the reason why we have fewer CAFOs than in many other counties. If we all stay engaged, together, we will help keep Jefferson County from being overrun with factory farms. JFAN is in it for the long haul. With you, we can, and we will, do this.

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