The High Price Of A Hog Farm
Farm Owners Remain Confused About Community
Outcry Over Hog Farm Near Buffalo River
By Terrah Baker
Jason Henson is one of three partners opening up C and H Hog Farms in Newton County, approximately 6 miles from the connecting point of the Big Creek and Dry Creek to the Buffalo River, and about 1 mile from Henson’s home.
Hog farming is no new game to Henson and his two cousins who have been running Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) for about 12 years — two of them still up and running.
But their latest hog farm is proving to be a different experience. Activists and concerned citizens are attacking the project, saying the manure holding ponds will leak, the river will be contaminated and the pristine wilderness that surrounds the Buffalo River could lose its former glory.
With all the “if’s” and uncertainties causing such chaos in the community, Henson and his business partners have been left confused and eager to defend themselves.
“What blows my mind is ‘what makes them think they know more than the ADEQ or EPA about what’s going to do what?’ That don’t make sense to me. That’s ADEQ’s job — to protect the environment,” Henson said.
Which is why many people are questioning the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality about their decision to let the hog farm begin operations within such close proximity to the Buffalo, close to a mile from Mount Judea schools, and with little notification to the public and even the National Park Service that manages Buffalo National River.
Enforcing Federal Regulations With Limited Resources
But ADEQ approves 30-40 permits a month, and they have many more roles and little resources. Basically, ADEQ enforces regulations put in place by the federal government, ADEQ spokesperson Katherine Benenati said.
“The 34 regulations adopted by the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission are the basis for ADEQ’s permitting, monitoring and enforcement programs, public involvement, activities and other services,” she explained.
The Environmental Protection Agency sets regulations for CAFOs based on a 2003 lawsuit against the EPA — the basis for ADEQ’s standards for C and H Farm.
Henson said they worked hard to exceed standards set by ADEQ, and will be spending a lot of money to do so. Property taxes alone, he said, are expected to be around $30,000 a year, 87 percent of which goes to the school district in Newton County.
“We got a CAFO permit, which is a federal permit,” Henson said. “They will shut you down if they think you’re doing something you’re not supposed to be doing.”
ADEQ will be monitoring C and H Farms’ in-house shallow pits with a capacity of over 700,000 gallons, a settling basin with capacity of over 800,000 gallons and a holding pond with capacity of 1.9 million gallons.
“We are using the latest technology available to us to make sure we keep our environment in as good a shape, if not better than it was before we came,” Henson said. “We all grew up and lived in this. (The Buffalo River) is where I take my kids to swim. Why on Earth if I thought (a CAFO) would pollute anything would I do this?”
They didn’t just take a pick and shovel to the ground, they had professional engineers come and survey the land, Henson explained. They chose the location for the farm based on the aggregation fields where they will be spraying the approximately 2 million gallons of manure, litter and wastewater estimated to be produced each year — it had to be on a hill so the waste could aggregate (collect) in the ponds below. Besides the pre-planning, Henson said once the farm is up and running, the ponds must be checked daily.
Solutions To A Complex Economic, Environmental Issue
But still, natural disasters happen, man-made accidents occur. And while Henson and ADEQ hope for the best, past experiences and scientific research on CAFOs are making grassroots and national environmentalists, local business owners and Newton County residents concerned.
“We must act to defeat this CAFO, and seek policies that will build a wall around the Buffalo River Watershed. If we lose this, we lose a part of ourselves,” said the Buffalo River Alliance’s website — a group formed after the announcement of the hog farm.
Research by the Union of Concerned Scientists reports that CAFOs are unnatural and unsustainable, gathering too many animals in one location creating an abundance of disease and manure. However, alternative production methods can be economically efficient and environmentally safe.
“These methods can deliver abundant animal products while avoiding most of the problems caused by CAFOs. However, these alternatives are at a competitive disadvantage because CAFOs have reduced their costs through subsidies that come at the public’s expense, including (until very recently) low-cost feed. CAFOs have also benefited from taxpayer-supported pollution cleanup programs and technological ‘fixes’ that may be counterproductive, such as the overuse of antibiotics,” the report stated.
Some suggest a middle ground could be using the manure as biofuel to operate the CAFO itself or for other uses. Bills have been introduced in the Arkansas legislature suggesting similar ideas — SB 933 that allows tax credits for producing alternative fuels, and SB 941 that would create a tax exemption for qualified drop-in biofuels manufacturers.
Solutions seem to lie in stricter regulations from the federal government, and incentives for sustainable farming and alternative fuel production, the environmentalists suggest, but as of now the farm is being constructed, and Henson expects to begin operation within the year.