It's doubtful that any single issue has created more controversy in rural America than the expansion of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. And nowhere has the debate been more intense than in Iowa, where hogs outnumber people 5-to-1. For generations, hogs were the "mortgage lifters" for many of the state's farmers. The scent of manure was dubbed, "the smell of money" and pork production sustained many of Iowa's rural communities. Pork production continues to play a vital role in the state's economy, but critics are concerned about the industry's impact on the environment. As Market to Market first reported in September, some environmentalists are wary of even the potential for groundwater pollution. Jeannie Campbell explains.
In 1997, Bob Anderson moved to northeast Iowa from Minnesota with a dream. Bob's dream was to reintroduce Peregrine falcons to the cliffs along the upper Mississippi. To make his dream a reality Bob purchased a farm near Decorah, Iowa where, using six breeding pairs, he harvested baby falcons. Before they were capable of flight Bob moved the chicks to Effigy Mounds National Monument where he hoped the young falcons would learn to think of the cliff as their home. The dream became a reality in 2001 when 6 pairs of falcons were recorded breeding on cliffs overlooking the Mississippi river.
Bob Anderson, Decorah, Iowa: "It's an incredible event. Here we are, sitting on a 250-foot cliff banding rock peregrines. 25 years in the making!"
With that success Bob abandoned his captive breeding program and today the six chambers that held the falcons are empty. Were he still breeding peregrines their view from the breeding chambers would now include a hog confinement building built just across the road in 2005.
Bob Anderson, Decorah, Iowa: "Well, this is the hog facility that has been built just a little over 1200 feet from my home. And the most shocking thing about this, if you take a look…"
Anderson is concerned that some of the waste might find its way to a sinkhole that connects to an underground aquifer.
Bob Anderson, Decorah, Iowa: "A culvert going under the driveway here to a culvert that crosses under the road here and drains everything to this active sink hole right in front of my home."
The operation that Anderson is concerned about is owned by T and N Enterprises which declined to be interviewed by Market to Market.
The karst topography in northeast Iowa is very porous and very little filtering of pollutants occurs as water enters the aquifer. Sinkholes, which are common in karst topography, are an even more direct link the water supply.
Bob Anderson, Decorah, Iowa: "When I first moved here years ago Iowa was in the race to see who could raise the most hogs. Was it North Carolina or Iowa? And now in North Carolina the hog confinements, hog factories are outlawed, there is a moratorium and I hope some day we'll have that happen here."
There is little question that agriculture is important to the Iowa economy. Total cash receipts for farm commodities in Iowa totaled 15.9 billion dollars in 2004, which was the third highest in the nation. Iowa leads the country in pork, egg, corn and soybean production, and according to a study done at Iowa State University, agriculture accounts for 10 percent of all Iowa jobs.
Still, in Iowa's 1998 Water Quality Report to Congress it was stated that the greatest threat to maintaining good water quality in Iowa was the expansion of the confined animal feeding industry and the improper management and disposal of animal waste.
Rich Leopold, Iowa Environmental Council: "When we used to have 100,000 farms that had hogs and all of them were used in the local stream for watering and all the waste was getting washed away there was low level widespread pollution everywhere. Well, now that doesn't happen. For the most part these large confinements have zero discharge almost all the time and most of them are doing a very good job. But when there is a problem it's catastrophic."
Rich Leopold is the Executive Director for the Iowa Environmental Council, an alliance of organizations and individuals working to protect the state's natural environment.
Rich Leopold, Iowa Environmental Council: "What we're out to do is protect public waters. But to do that we have to have certain permits and regulations and a strategy. We've got to think about this and where we put these things and how much we allow and that requires some paper and some lawyers and things like that. We need to do a much better job than we're doing right now."
Jeffrey Vonk, Iowa Department of Natural Resources: "Until we give local people the opportunity to have a meaningful say in where these facilities are being built we will continue to see this conflict, and frankly we'll continue to see people leave rural Iowa, because it's not a place you want to be when you have one or more of these facilities within a half mile of your home."
Jeffrey Vonk is Director of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources which is the agency responsible for water quality management in the state. In 2006 the Iowa DNR proposed new rules that would allow the agency to consider more environmental factors including karst topography before granting construction permits.
Jeffrey Vonk, Iowa Department of Natural Resources: "Do we want to have a mega hog or poultry facility being built right next to a public water supply? Do we want to have tons of animal manure spread where water concentrates around a public water supply? I don't think we do and yet we don't consider that today and our rule would lay that out as one factor where we're going to take a look at it."
Groups like the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement have repeatedly asked policy makers to regulate the livestock industry more stringently.
Governor Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa: "There are absolute risks associated with the location of some of these facilities."
In May of 2006, Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack vetoed a bill that was aimed at restricting the Iowa DNR's authority when granting permits for animal confinement operations.
Governor Tom Vilsack, D-Iowa "So I'm very insistent that when we have a rule that we can actually back it up."
The veto allowed the DNR's proposed rule changes to go into effect in August . Among other things the DNR can now consider soil types, such as karst topography, when granting permits. Iowa lawmakers have promised to continue the battle over who controls Iowa's livestock industry when the next legislative session begins in January.
Aaron Putze, Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers: "Over the last several years Minnesota has seen a decline of 170,000 dairy cows."
Aaron Putze is the executive director of The Coalition to Support Iowa Farmers, a collaboration of the 6 commodity organizations including the Iowa Pork Producers Association. According to Putze, increased regulatory scrutiny of the livestock industry in Minnesota has had a negative economic impact of more that 300 million annually.
Aaron Putze, Coalition to Support Iowa's Farmers: "In fact, the situation of the regulatory burdens of hog farmers in Minnesota recently compelled Governor Pawlenty to convene a task force to study why dairy and livestock was leaving Minnesota. The task force recently came back and reported that one of the leading reasons for the departure of livestock from Minnesota was the regulatory burdens that were being placed on livestock farmers."
Even though his work with Peregrine falcons is finished Bob Anderson would like to continue to live in northeast Iowa however he is concerned not only concerned with possible contamination of his drinking water, but also with what might happen to the regions trout streams. Bob with the help of some friends has started taking water samples. Samples he will use to measure any changes in the stream. For Market to Market I'm Jeannie Campbell.