Something Stinks in Iowa: Hog Farms

The Associated Press
Friday, October 19, 2007; 7:16 AM

LORIMOR, Iowa -- Mayor Kent Forbes has learned a hard truth about small-town life in Iowa: Sometimes it stinks. That's not a figure of speech. His tiny southern Iowa town is surrounded by hog farms, where tons of manure fill the air with a biting ammonia smell.

Farm odors are nothing new in a state that has long been a national leader in hog, corn and soybean production. But a steady proliferation of huge hog confinements _ many with upward of 5,000 hogs _ has drawn complaints from longtime Iowans and concerns that the odor could hinder efforts to attract businesses.

And all residents can do is stay indoors.

State legislators have placed minimal restrictions on the hog industry, and a federal court has ruled that confinements can't be sued under the Clean Air Act if they agree to pay a small fee and allow the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor their emissions.

"I don't think the (state) has been aggressive on this at all," said Barb Kalbach, board president of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a grass-roots group that helps rural residents fight the confinements. "And I don't think the state would tolerate this stuff from any other industry."

The hog confinements are fairly new in Iowa, first popping up in the early 1990s after the practice was popularized in North Carolina. By housing thousands of hogs in one area, managers can keep costs low and meet consumer demand for a consistent product.

The factory farms have mostly replaced smaller family operations, which were scattered enough to limit their unavoidable stench.

"Hogs have been in Iowa forever, but they were always far less concentrated ... " said Bruce Babcock, director of Iowa State University's Center for Agricultural and Rural Development. "Now, there are so many hogs on one site and it can really smell."

The operations typically set up shop near small, rural towns, where land is cheap and officials are eager for any new business that offers jobs and increased tax revenue.

"The livestock industry is crucial to a number of our rural communities," said state Sen. David Johnson, the ranking Republican on the agriculture committee. "Without that livestock they run the risk of withering on the vine."

Johnson said the state is committed to regulating confinements, pointing to the first meeting later this month of a livestock odor study committee.

For many, though, the state's efforts have been mere platitudes, and word of a proposed hog farm causes panic.

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