Farm smells ignite debate but no consensus reached

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Before dinner can be prepared and served at the table, the food has to be raised on a farm.

However, Old MacDonald’s Farm with its placid scenes of pigs and cows is a shrinking segment of American farming, being replaced with large industrial agricultural operations with hundreds and thousands of animals.

Slim profit margins create the need for volume and push many farmers to build bigger barns and bring in more and more animals. When one of these larger operations is proposed, controversy is almost certain to erupt. While families need affordable and abundant food, many do not want to live next door to the New MacDonald’s Farm.

mcinerny McInerny

Large livestock farms that confine, feed and maintain the animals for at least 45 days are regulated by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. The operation’s size determines its classification. For example, an animal feeding operation with 600 or more swine is called a confined feeding operation and one with 2,500 swine weighing more than 55 pounds each is a concentrated animal feeding operation.

Many of the concerns and disputes center on the amount of waste the animals produce. According to a 2010 report by the National Association of Local Boards of Health, large feeding operations can generate between 2,800 tons and 1.6 million tons of manure annually. This can outpace the amount of waste produced by humans in an urban setting.

 A recipe for discontentment on the Indiana countryside is created when more farms expand at the same time families not used to the farm smells are moving to rural areas where they want to live on five to 10 acres of land, said Todd Janzen, partner at Plews Shadley Racher & Braun LLP.

Today, the rules and regulations governing large livestock operations focus on protecting water. Much of the government’s focus is on how the animal waste will be collected and stored, and how it will later be applied to fields as fertilizer.  

Indeed, the permitting process for farmers wanting to start or expand a CFO includes submitting blueprints for manure treatment and control facilities in addition to soil and manure testing, locations of neighboring streams, ditches and lakes as well as maps of areas where the manure will be applied.

Not addressed by the rules and regulations is air quality. Yet, the smell is a common concern among neighbors any time any livestock feeding operation is proposed.

“That’s not their job,” Janzen said of IDEM. “Their job is the protection of the environment. There is not an environmental impact when someone smells manure in the country once in a while.”

Daniel McInerny, partner at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP, agreed. He said the number one misconception is that odors from these operations pervade the surrounding area for miles. Actually, the smell stays within a few 100 feet of the barns, he said, although it could potentially travel a farther distance when the manure is applied to the fields.

To Kim Ferraro, water and agriculture policy director at the Hoosier Environmental Council, the regulations are not balanced equally between property owners and farmers. The agricultural industry is very protected, she said, while the concerns about water and air quality are largely ignored.

Finding remedy in the courts can be a difficult hurdle to clear because of the amount of money needed to bring a lawsuit, she said.

“We’re not anti-CAFO,” Ferraro said of the council. “We’re pro-environment and pro-people.”

She pointed to a recent case – Eric Stickdorn and Lisa Stickdorn v. Elam B. Zook, Sarah F. Zook, Samuel L. Lantz and Mattie Z. Lantz, 89A01-1012-CT-670 – she argued and won before the Indiana Court of Appeals as an example of what neighbors of these operations must contend with. Here, the Stickdorns suffered physical illness and eventually had to leave their home because of the overpowering odor.

In a 2008 study, the Government Accountability Office examined the impact of concentrated animal feeding operations on air quality and found no consensus. The GAO looked at 68 government-sponsored or peer-reviewed studies completed since 2002 on the air and water pollutants from feeding operations. Seven of those studies linked pollutants from the animal waste to harmful emissions while three others found no negative air quality impact.

Typical emissions coming from the CAFOs are hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, methane and particulate matter.  

McInerny sees the public becoming more hardened against these large feeding operations. He blamed Internet chatter and a vocal minority which, he said, are spreading misinformation.

Contrary to the outrage when a feeding operation is proposed, he said, once the barns have been built and the animals are in place, most people do not even know it is nearby.

Possible changes coming

Both McInerny and Janzen pointed to recent revisions in the state regulations which have prohibited farmers from applying the manure to frozen, snow-covered fields. IDEM changed the policy because of concerns about the waste running off into streams and ponds.

The impact of this new restriction, from what Janzen has seen, is that some farms are deciding to constrict or stop livestock production altogether. These farms do not have the storage capacity to hold all the waste through the winter months and the cost of expanding to include more capacity is too much.

Moreover, the possibility of new regulations being imposed on small farmers could lead to an increase in the size of big operations. Again, the costs of compliance could force many small farmers to consolidate with larger farms.

So far, air emissions have not been a part of any new regulation, but the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has been looking into the matter. It started a National Air Emissions Monitor Standards study to examine feeding operations and has been getting pressured to regulate. Twenty environmental groups petitioned the EPA in 2010 to regulate air emissions from large farms using the authority it has under the U.S. Clean Air Act.

Farmers fear they might be required to capture all air emissions from the barns and then make controlled releases into the environment, Janzen said.

The strong push back against a proposed confined feeding operation for hogs that would be near the YMCA’s popular Camp Tecumseh in Carroll County has captured headlines and illustrated the common concerns neighbors have.

The farmer, John Erickson, received approval from IDEM to start a CFO on his White County farm with two wean-to-finish barns housing a maximum of 4,620 hogs each. Currently, his permit is under appeal at the Office of Environmental Adjudications and the camp has filed a lawsuit to block the farm’s expansion.

Ferraro believes the public outcry over this particular farm could bring the entire CFO issue to a head. In this instance, she said, the regulations cannot protect the children who go there every summer from potential odors and contamination.

Yet, in the Legislature, the favor has rested with the industry, Ferraro said. The 2013 session included several bills such as House Bill 1582, a measure she characterized as “disturbing.” This bill would have made bringing a nuisance suit against a farm more difficult and would have allowed the farm to avoid mitigating the nuisance if doing so adversely impacted the farm’s economic viability.

The Hoosier Environmental Council would like to push for more progressive regulations and laws, Ferraro said, but at present the organization’s focus in on fighting to keep the state from going backward.•


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  1. Especially I would like to see all the republican voting patriotic good ole boys to stop and understand that the wars they have been volunteering for all along (especially the past decade at least) have not been for God & Jesus etc no far from it unless you think George Washington's face on the US dollar is god (and we know many do). When I saw the movie about Chris Kyle, I thought wow how many Hoosiers are just like this guy, out there taking orders to do the nasty on the designated bad guys, sometimes bleeding and dying, sometimes just serving and coming home to defend a system that really just views them as reliable cannon fodder. Maybe if the Christians of the red states would stop volunteering for the imperial legions and begin collecting welfare instead of working their butts off, there would be a change in attitude from the haughty professorial overlords that tell us when democracy is allowed and when it isn't. To come home from guarding the borders of the sandbox just to hear if they want the government to protect this country's borders then they are racists and bigots. Well maybe the professorial overlords should gird their own loins for war and fight their own battles in the sandbox. We can see what kind of system this really is from lawsuits like this and we can understand who it really serves. NOT US.... I mean what are all you Hoosiers waving the flag for, the right of the president to start wars of aggression to benefit the Saudis, the right of gay marriage, the right for illegal immigrants to invade our country, and the right of the ACLU to sue over displays of Baby Jesus? The right of the 1 percenters to get richer, the right of zombie banks to use taxpayer money to stay out of bankruptcy? The right of Congress to start a pissing match that could end in WWIII in Ukraine? None of that crud benefits us. We should be like the Amish. You don't have to go far from this farcical lawsuit to find the wise ones, they're in the buggies in the streets not far away....

  2. Moreover, we all know that the well heeled ACLU has a litigation strategy of outspending their adversaries. And, with the help of the legal system well trained in secularism, on top of the genuinely and admittedly secular 1st amendment, they have the strategic high ground. Maybe Christians should begin like the Amish to withdraw their services from the state and the public and become themselves a "people who shall dwell alone" and foster their own kind and let the other individuals and money interests fight it out endlessly in court. I mean, if "the people" don't see how little the state serves their interests, putting Mammon first at nearly every turn, then maybe it is time they wake up and smell the coffee. Maybe all the displays of religiosity by American poohbahs on down the decades have been a mask of piety that concealed their own materialistic inclinations. I know a lot of patriotic Christians don't like that notion but I entertain it more and more all the time.

  3. If I were a judge (and I am not just a humble citizen) I would be inclined to make a finding that there was no real controversy and dismiss them. Do we allow a lawsuit every time someone's feelings are hurt now? It's preposterous. The 1st amendment has become a sword in the hands of those who actually want to suppress religious liberty according to their own backers' conception of how it will serve their own private interests. The state has a duty of impartiality to all citizens to spend its judicial resources wisely and flush these idiotic suits over Nativity Scenes down the toilet where they belong... however as Christians we should welcome them as they are the very sort of persecution that separates the sheep from the wolves.

  4. What about the single mothers trying to protect their children from mentally abusive grandparents who hide who they truly are behind mounds and years of medication and have mentally abused their own children to the point of one being in jail and the other was on drugs. What about trying to keep those children from being subjected to the same abuse they were as a child? I can understand in the instance about the parent losing their right and the grandparent having raised the child previously! But not all circumstances grant this being OKAY! some of us parents are trying to protect our children and yes it is our God given right to make those decisions for our children as adults!! This is not just black and white and I will fight every ounce of this to get denied

  5. Mr Smith the theory of Christian persecution in Indiana has been run by the Indiana Supreme Court and soundly rejected there is no such thing according to those who rule over us. it is a thought crime to think otherwise.