Laws would punish small hog farmers

Published 9:15 am Thursday, April 1, 2010

When talking about water pollution problems caused by livestock operations, state Rep. Al Juhnke of Willmar wants to blame our state’s smaller livestock operations. “Smaller feedlots frankly are our biggest problems because of where they are located,” he said during a hearing on legislation he is proposing to weaken the environmental standards for Minnesota’s largest factory farms over 1,000 animal units. He offered no proof of this, probably because there is none.

He also said that these large farms are “good stewards” and shouldn’t need to get a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. This Federal Clean Water Act permit is an important enforcement tool for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and currently required for the less than 4 percent of feedlots over 1,000 animal units. In fact, it was the NPDES permit that finally shut down the Excel Dairy — a dairy in Thief River Falls that violated air quality standards hundreds of times.

These violations were so bad that it drove neighbors from their homes and the operations was declared a public health hazard by the Minnesota Department of Health. The manure still sits in the multi-million gallon manure lagoons, and may have to be cleaned up at taxpayer cost. It sounds to me like we need to strengthen standards for these so-called “good stewards,” not weaken them.

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It is unfortunate that we need to continue fighting legislation like this. Favoring our state’s largest farms while blaming smaller livestock operations are not the values that I share. Calling small livestock farmers the “culprits” is just wrong. After all, small feedlots are not causing neighbors to evacuate their homes. As a family farm worker, I oppose Rep. Al Juhnke’s bill and attitude that bigger is better.

Brad Trom

Blooming Prairie