AP story showcases tension in Iowa over factory farming


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Large animal feeding operations (via Creative Commons). 

Julia Poska | February 13, 2020

A news story published last week featured an Iowa farmer who illegally built to un-permitted barns containing about 2,400 hogs. State officials were unaware of the concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) for years. 

That farmer and others are fighting in what Associated Press correspondent John Flesher called a “battleground” in Iowa. Questions of pollution and regulation have inspired lawsuits, anti-CAFO alliances and neighborly tensions throughout the state, as animal feeding operations continue to proliferate.

Below are four key takeaways from Flesher’s in-depth report. Read the full-length story on apnews.com.

  1. The federal government relies state data for animal feeding operation data. In many cases, states keep tabs on only the largest operations (in Iowa, a true “CAFO” has a minimum of 1,000 species-variable “animal units” per confinement). The EPA counted about 20,300 CAFOs nationwide in 2018.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are about 450,000 animal feeding operations–places animals are raised in confinement (of any size)– nationwide.
  2. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources discovered thousands of previously undocumented animal feeding operations in 2017.  Some point to this case as proof of under-regulation, but state regulators said the discoveries indicated a well-functioning system.
  3. Under the 1972 Clean Water Act, especially large livestock operations need permits for discharging waste into waterways. Since such discharges are often unintended, however, state and federal environmental agencies can only mandate permits for operations caught discharging waste. In some cases, farmers have been able to make spill-proofing improvements instead of applying for permits.
  4. Studies show that livestock operations and anaerobically decomposing waste release massive amounts of ammonia and greenhouse gases. Because such emissions are difficult to measure, though, they are unregulated by the Clear Air Act. Studies have additionally correlated these emissions to human health issues such as childhood asthma. Cause/effect is impossible to prove, however.

 

On The Radio – Petition to strengthen regulation for livestock operations denied


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A confined dairy feeding lot in northeastern Iowa. (Iowa State Univesity)
Jenna Ladd | October 16, 2017

This week’s On The Radio segment discusses how a recent attempt to strengthen regulatory standards for livestock facilities in Iowa was shut down by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission. 

Transcript: A petition to make it more difficult to build animal feeding operations in the state of Iowa was recently denied by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

Under current law, applicants seeking to construct livestock facilities must meet only 50 percent of the state’s master matrix of rules and regulations pertaining to the structures. The petition, filed by two environmental groups, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, requested that applicants meet at least 86 percent of the matrix’s requirements.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources sided with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and recommended against passing the petition, both groups said that the proposed changes would be too stringent. Proponents of the petition pointed out that just two percent of applicants are denied permission to construct livestock feeding operations in the state of Iowa.

The current animal feeding operation master matrix was developed fifteen years ago by state lawmakers.

For more information, visit iowa-environmental-focus-dot-org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Betsy Stone.

Petition to regulate Iowa’s animal feeding operations denied


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Large livestock feeding operations often result in poorer water quality in nearby waterways. (Waterkeeper Alliance, Inc./flickr)
Jenna Ladd| September 20, 2017

A petition to make it more difficult to build animal feeding operations in the state of Iowa was shot down this week by the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission.

At present, applicants seeking to construct livestock facilities must meet only 50 percent of the state’s master matrix of rules and regulations pertaining to the structures. The petition, filed by two environmental groups, Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and Food & Water Watch, requested that applicants meet at least 86 percent of the matrix’s requirements.

The groups argued that more strict regulation would protect residents living nearby livestock facilities from water pollution and odor. Iowa Department of Natural Resources sided with the Iowa Environmental Protection Commission and recommended against passing the petition. Noah Poppelreiter, an attorney with Iowa DNR, said that the request “goes too far” and would likely be overturned in the court system to the Des Moines Register.

The current animal feeding operation master matrix was developed fifteen years ago by state lawmakers.

Tarah Heinzen, an attorney for Iowa Food & Water Watch, said to the Register, “This vote against strengthening the master matrix is a vote for increasing Big Ag’s profits at the expense of Iowans’ health and environment.” 1,500 Iowans wrote in expressing their support for the petition.

Proponents of the petition pointed out that just two percent of applicants are denied permission to construct livestock feeding operations, which often result in poor water quality in nearby waterways. Last year, 810 water quality impairments in 610 bodies of water were reported in Iowa.

After turning down the petition, Iowa Environmental Protection Commissioner Joe Riding suggested its authors write letters to Gov. Kim Reynolds and legislative leaders asking them to change the matrix.

Northey requests additional funds to prepare for potential Avian flu outbreak


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The 2015 Iowa bird flu outbreak resulted in the death of 30 million hens. (Open Gate Farm/flickr)
Jenna Ladd | December 6, 2016

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey requested an additional $500,000 in funding last week for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Animal Industry Bureau.

The money would be used to prepare for and respond to a potential High Path Avian Influenza Disease outbreak. Northey’s request follows Iowa’s Avian Influenza outbreak last year, which resulted in the death of 30 million hens and 1.5 million turkeys. Northey said,

“I recognize we are in a very tight budget time in the state, due in large part to the challenging economic environment in Iowa’s ag industry.  However, it is important we continue to invest in priority areas that put the state in a good position for continued growth.”

Following the 2015 outbreak, Iowa’s economy took an estimated $1.2 billion hit and 8,400 people lost their jobs. Northey said that the funds would be used to help farmers increase biosecurity efforts against the disease, which can include vaccines and disinfecting shoes, hands, tires, and anything else that may come in contact with a poultry flock.

“The value of Iowa’s animal industry is $13.45 billion, and growing. Unfortunately, the High Path Avian Influenza outbreak last year showed how devastating a foreign animal disease can be in our state.  These funds would allow the Department to better prepare for a future animal disease emergency response,” Northey said.

In his statement, the secretary also emphasized his support for a proposal passed by the Iowa House of Representatives which would provide nearly $500 million through 2029 for water quality improvement.

On the Radio: Tool helps livestock farmers handle environmental challenges


A group of cattle graze in an Iowa field. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
A group of cattle grazes in an Iowa field. (Carl Wycoff/Flickr)
November 3, 2014

This week’s On the Radio segment looks at a website that’s helping Iowa farmers tackle environmental challenges on the farm. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Transcript: AM-PAT

An Iowa State University Extension and Outreach website provides livestock producers with the tools to better handle environmental challenges on the farm.

This is the Iowa Environmental Focus.

The Air Management Practices Assessment Tool – or AM-PAT – aims to assist livestock farmers with mitigation practices to better deal with the odor, exhaust and dust associated with livestock and poultry operations.

Users can view and print off color-coded graphs and fact sheets to gauge pollutants like ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, dust, odor, volatile organic compounds, and greenhouse gases and how they affect various aspects of livestock operations. The website also calculates the relative cost for the various practices.

AM-PAT is a collaboration between the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences with funding provided by the National Pork Board.

For more information about AM-PAT and other resources, visit IowaEnvironmentalFocus.org.

From the UI Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research, I’m Jerry Schnoor.

http://www.agronext.iastate.edu/ampat/homepage.html
http://nationalhogfarmer.com/environment/air-management-assessment-tool-helps-set-mitigation-strategies
http://vimeopro.com/isuagextension/ampat

More LED lighting means lower utility bills for livestock farmers


Nick Fetty | September 16, 2014
Livestock farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)
Hog farmers are saving money on utility bills by equipping facilities with LED lighting. (Benny Mazur/Flickr)

The increased popularity of energy efficient LED (light emitting diodes) lighting has moved to the farm and livestock farmers are saving on utility bills by embracing this trend.

Hog farmers in Iowa have been particularly quick to adopt the new technology. Washington, Iowa-based Sitler’s Supplies has sold more than 10,000 LED fixture and bulb sets in the past 18 months. This is to help accommodate the utility demands of livestock operations which can have up to 600 lights running for more than 16 hours per day.

A 2010 Oklahoma State University study found that cows produced six percent more milk when raised near LED lighting compared to fluorescent lighting. However a University of Florida scientist claims that the evidence is inconclusive and that “[t]he wavelength of light you get and the whiteness from LED should not have an influence.” This was again debated in a 2014 article from LEDs Magazine which suggests LED lighting will “substantially increase the production of eggs, meat, and other protein sources, while dramatically reducing energy use and other input costs.”

Governmental and private entities have also embraced LED lighting in recent years although at $50-60 per fixture the technology is not yet affordable for some farmers. An LED bulb can have a lifespan of about 80,000 hours which is more than double than of a compact florescent.

Iowa farmers have also been proactive in utilizing other energy efficiency measures such as solar panels, geothermal, and methane gas recovery.

“Hog Wild: Factory Farms are Poisoning Iowa’s Drinking Water”


Photo courtesy of Farm Sanctuary; Flickr

Ted Genoways goes into an in-depth analysis concerning the issues of farm runoff polluting Iowa’s drinking water.

“Millions of pigs are crammed into overcrowded barns all across the state, being fattened for slaughter while breeding superbugs—all to feed China’s growing appetite for Spam”

Follow this link to read the full story via On Earth. 

On the Radio: Livestock Farm Oversight Increase


Photo by nooccar; Flickr

This week’s On the Radio segment covers the new oversight plans of livestock farms in Iowa. Listen to the audio below, or continue reading for the transcript.

Continue reading

Iowa Public Radio: Meat Producers Ignore Pleas For Health, Environmental Reform


Photo by nooccar; Flickr

According to Bob Martin, the executive director of the Pew commission the meat industry has failed to eliminate the nontherapeutic use of antibiotics — though the Food and Drug Administration has restricted the use of some specific drugs and set voluntary guidelines.

On the animal waste issue, Martin adds, the Environmental Protection Agency has not followed through with its promise to do a full inventory of waste practices and enact higher waste storage and disposal standards at concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, that the commission had recommended.

To learn more, head over to Iowa Public Radio. 

Environmentalists wants more livestock inspectors


Photo by Todd Ehlers, Flickr.
Photo by Todd Ehlers, Flickr.

Last year, DNR director Chuck Gipp told Governor Branstad about the EPA’s proposed plan for inspecting large livestock operations. According to Gipp, the plan would require 11 new livestock inspectors in Iowa.

Branstad has decided to put only five new inspectors into his budget. Some environmentalists feel that this is not enough personnel to properly inspect livestock operations. There’s also a risk that the EPA will take over inspections if they don’t feel the job is being done thoroughly.

The governor believes that five new inspectors are enough, and that it would not be fiscally responsible to add more.

The major environmental concern with large livestock operations is the possibility for manure to enter Iowa’s waterways.

Hear the whole story here.