New CAFO law divides farmers over future of agriculture, environment in Missouri
By Tom Coulter, The Missourian
Aug 7, 2019
CALLAWAY COUNTY — Despite living in the shadow of Pork Masters, an eight-building pig-feeding operation in Callaway County, for over two decades, Dale Fischer has never become accustomed to its smell.
“Shit stinks, no matter what you do,” Fischer said on a recent afternoon, his Australian shepherd, Nala, lounging near him under a mimosa tree.
From 1994 to this year, Pork Masters — just across a pasture from Fischer’s house — was the only concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, in the county. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources defines CAFOs as feeding operations that reach a certain threshold of farm animals — for example, 2,500 pigs or 700 dairy cows.
Then, in 2014, word spread that a new CAFO hoped to set up shop in the area. Because Fischer’s house wasn’t close enough to receive official notice of the new one, his neighbor Jeff Jones gave him the news over the phone.
“I was not happy, because we just had a week of pretty bad stench,” Fischer said.
In response, Fischer, Jones and several other neighbors formed the Friends of Responsible Agriculture Group and filed a lawsuit challenging the permit issued to Eichelberger Farms, the Iowa-based pig enterprise planning the new CAFO.
They also gathered signatures and took a petition with roughly 1,500 names on it to the Callaway County Commission. It didn’t change anything.
On a separate front, the legal battle went on for four years. Eventually, Eichelberger Farms won, and Callaway Farrowing began operating in January.
Jones, a cattle farmer who lives closer to the new CAFO, said when wind blows in a certain way, the stench is all-encompassing.
“I’m a farmer, so I got a pretty tough nose, but it smells like straight ammonia,” Jones said.
Missouri has 505 permitted CAFOs, a paltry number compared to the over 13,000 in neighboring Iowa. Mid-Missouri farmers such as Fischer and Jones fear a new law effective Aug. 28, however, will give out-of-state corporations free rein to expand into communities they have no stake in. They’ve turned to the courts to stop them.
“We’re dug in. We’re trying our best to tolerate this and change things in a way that maybe we can all live in harmony together,” Jones said. “But when you’ve got something of that magnitude, it’s an uphill run.”
Yet many farmers fall on the other side of the issue. For them, CAFOs are an inevitable part of the changing landscape of farming, and they believe existing agricultural regulations at the state and federal level are stringent enough.
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