This week a circuit court judge issued an amended ruling that prohibits a farm family from expanding its hog operation at a new site within two miles of the Village of Arrow Rock.
The ruling cites allegations made by plaintiffs as findings of fact showing that "factory farms" pose a threat to the state park and historic sites at Arrow Rock, the effects of the proposed hog operation on "air and water quality will be detrimental" to the town, and "airborne pollutants" generated by the farm "will destroy and decimate" Arrow Rock and surrounding historic sites.
The original ruling prohibited the construction of any new concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) within 15 miles of Arrow Rock. Furthermore, the ruling was interpreted by the plaintiffs to apply to state parks statewide.
While the scope of the amended ruling is much narrower than the original, it is still very disconcerting. A fourth-generation farmer who saw the future for his family in increasing his hog production and invested his time and money with this goal in mind, including obtaining the required permits, became the subject of a lawsuit.
But because the lawsuit named the Missouri Department of Natural Resources as the sole defendant, he was never heard in court. Furthermore, because the department failed to respond with counter arguments to the plaintiffs' allegations in a timely manner, all of the plaintiffs' allegations were accepted as fact by the court.
Missouri is among the top 10 states in producing hogs, beef cattle, and turkeys as well as in numbers of dairy and sheep operations. Livestock production is a major source of economic activity in many rural communities, especially for dozens that have lost other employers. More than half of the $5.6 billion generated by Missouri agriculture comes from livestock production.
Terms like "factory farms" are intended to demonize livestock confinement operations that are large enough to qualify as CAFOs. But the family targeted by this lawsuit is typical of the vast majority of livestock confinement operations in Missouri.
These farms utilize modern production technology and animal husbandry practices that better allow for the handling of animal waste environmentally and yield more production at a lower cost for many farmers. Unfortunately, critics with motives ranging from opposition to meat consumption to differences in marketing philosophy to environmental concerns are waging an aggressive misinformation campaign.
This family had an opportunity to improve the viability of their farm, but it was taken away from them. Through no fault of their own and without their side being heard, they lost their initial investment and are subject to court-imposed restrictions based on a legal technicality and not facts or science.
The danger, though, is that the very family farms everyone wants to protect are stifled by arbitrary restrictions to the point that domestic meat production no longer meets our nation's demand. Let's not make the mistake of thinking it can't happen.
Charles E. Kruse
Missouri Farm Bureau