Who's setting the rules?

Don Knight | The Herald BulletinKeith Schoettmer stands in the finishing barn at Schoettmer Prime Pork Farm in Tipton. The Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources will meet later this month to continue hearing information as they look to update the state’s laws regulating CAFOs and CFOs.

RUSHVILLE, Ind.-- On Keith Schoettmer’s hog farm on a cool late-summer day, there’s little evidence that thousands of animals live inside barns on the property.

The air is free of the odor of manure; almost all of the animal waste falls into massive underground tanks beneath the barns.

During planting season, the waste is spread across fields and injected into the dirt as fertilizer, helping complete the arc of what Schoettmer calls “the perfect circle of life.”

Schoettmer Prime Pork is one of more than 1,800 large livestock feeding farms in operation across the state. Schoettmer’s farm, which generally has about 11,000 hogs on site, belongs to the larger group of such operations. These are known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations while smaller feeding farms are called Confined Animal Feeding Operations.

Schoettmer’s has the operation down to a science of efficiency. But change could affect the way massive livestock operations are regulated in Indiana.

The state legislature’s Interim Study Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources will meet this month to continue hearing information from industry insiders, government officials and ecologists as they seek to update the state’s laws regulating the industry.

The regulations were last revised about 10 years ago, and Julia Wickard, director of governmental affairs at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, said it’s time for Indiana to catch up with other states.

Currently, Hoosier CAFOs and CFOs are regulated by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management because the animals produce thousands of tons of waste that could harm the environment. The waste is most often stored in water-retention tanks before it is either carted off, injected into soil as fertilizer or burned in incinerators as fuel.

IDEM also has authority over livestock feeding operation setbacks, storm-water runoff, wells and roads.

According to Wickard, IDEM doesn’t regulate the factors of greatest concern to communities: odor and zoning standards.

Zoning ordinances vary county-by-county and, often, within a county.

“To sum it up, local government is where, and state government is how,” Wickard said of livestock feeding operation regulations.

The authority of local government is an outgrowth of the Hoosier value of home rule, said Carolyn Orr, director of the Council of State Governments Midwest division.

Local government units in Indiana host meetings and send details on the meetings to affected landowners, including testimony from the animal feeding operation applicant and residents who support or oppose the farm.

Several others states use statewide metrics to determine whether a particular location is suitable for a CAFO or CFO.

Iowa offers a statewide score sheet with points based on geography, setbacks, land use, proximity to water and other criteria to determine whether a potential livestock feeding operation site is suitable.

Orr also pointed to Nebraska, which created a statewide Livestock Friendly County program. Each county hosted a meeting to hear from farmers and residents concerning statewide requirements for animal feeding operations. After the meeting, county government units voted on whether to become a Livestock Friendly County.

The designation offers potential farmers criteria to pass zoning regulations as well as the assurance that a particular county would be supportive of their livestock feeding operation.

“If they don’t want me there, I really probably wouldn’t want to go there anyway,” Orr said.

Josh Trenary, executive director of Indiana Pork, said his organization would be open to a county-by-county matrix instead of statewide requirements for animal feeding operations, which he sees as too sweeping.

“Some counties are going to be more friendly toward livestock. County-by-county makes more sense, instead of doing something one size for all,” Trenary said.

Some Indiana locales, such as Franklin County, already offer a checklist for scoring prospective livestock feeding operation sites.

Meanwhile, many environmentalists want more stringent regulations for CAFOs and CFOs.

The Sierra Club opposes large livestock feeding operations, noting that waste can seep out of retention ponds or lagoons into creeks, rivers and other water sources. The organization maintains that CAFOs and CFOs can cause air pollutants, as well.

While spills do occur in Indiana, IDEM is unable to provide an exact count.

Schoettmer, the owner of the CAFO near Tipton, Indiana said he’s an environmentalist, too, and works to make sure his hogs’ waste doesn’t harm the environment.

“In the 30 years we have been here, we have never had a spill, we have never had to report to IDEM a spill,” he said.

Schoettmer’s operation uses an injector to put animal waste underneath fields, instead of spreading it on top, which in some cases could cause the waste to spill waterways during a heavy rain.

“On down time, with other hog farmers, we go canoeing, we are out in the environment, too,” Schoettmer said. “We don’t wake up each morning and say, ‘How can we pollute today.’ We do our best to keep it pristine.”

Stephens writes for the Rushville, Indiana Republican.

Recommended for you