HANCOCK COUNTY — In a bid to increase efficiency and modernize production, a Hancock County farmer has received approval for a confined feeding operation for up to 4,000 hogs.
On May 21, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which reviews, approves and regulates CFOs, approved a CFO application submitted by Lloyd Arthur of Arthur’s Inc. to construct two animal barns at approximately 1500 E. CR 300S in Brandywine Township.
Arthur said the new facility is needed to modernize the family’s existing hog-producing operation, which has been in the area for more than 60 years.
“We’ve got older facilities toward New Palestine that are very inefficient and rusting,” Arthur said.
In a letter to adjoining property owners, the farm said the “facility that this new construction is replacing is 30 years old, and it is a constant inefficiency and challenge to manage manure handling and upkeep of the structure.”
According to the farm’s IDEM application, plans call for a 9,752-square-foot nursery with a capacity for 2,400 pigs under 80 pounds and a 13,325-square-foot finishing barn with a capacity of 1,600 hogs weighing 80 pounds or more. The operation wouldn’t have that many animals at the outset but would move toward capacity gradually, Arthur said.
CFOs are defined by IDEM as raising animals for food, fur or recreation in lots, pens, ponds, sheds or buildings, where they are confined, fed and maintained for at least 45 days during any year; and where there is no ground cover or vegetation present over at least half the animals’ confinement area, according to the agency’s website.
For hog production, an operation is deemed a CFO if more than 600 hogs are raised in confinement.
As of Jan. 13, there were 1,192 CFOs regulated by IDEM in Indiana, and according to the Hoosier Environmental Council, some two dozen CFOs and larger concentrated animal feeding operations are in Hancock County.
The operations sometimes draw criticism over fears of pollution and odors, but Roy Ballard, an educator for Purdue Extension Hancock County, said CFO operators feel the controlled environment, reduction in feed loss and overall efficiency mitigate in favor of the enterprises.
A drive toward increased efficiency can also be seen in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recently released 2012 Census of Agriculture, which shows Indiana farms dwindling in numbers but growing in size since 2007.
In that five-year period, the state lost more than 2,000 farms; however, the average Hoosier farm increased in size from 242 to 251 acres, according to the report.
“We’re just trying to make better use of land and be more efficient,” Arthur said. “It’s the same thing as a guy who goes from a 20-foot field cultivator to a 40-foot field cultivator; he can do it better and faster.”
Barry Sneed, IDEM public information officer, said the agency evaluates CFO applications on environmental issues including manure handling and storage, facility design and construction, manure application rates and setbacks from water, wells and residences.
After approval is granted based on a farm’s application, the agency inspects final construction and continues to monitor the operation for compliance with state CFO rules, Sneed said.
The Arthur farm’s plans, however, have raised concerns of some residents at nearby Bomar Manor housing addition, which is east of the site.
“I have a lot of concerns,” said Michael Hornek, who lives just outside Bomar Manor. “You’ve got a large concentration of animals in a small area.”
For Hornek, a CFO raises issues of odor, groundwater pollution and consumption and adverse health impacts, he said.
Bomar resident Shirley Henderson said she had more questions than answers about CFOs.
“I have a million questions,” Henderson said. “I do think it’s a little too close to the city and that it should be a little farther out.”
Arthur, however, said in addition to a rigorous IDEM review, the farm has made several improvements to the property that he hopes will cut against the major concerns residents might have, including the addition of a “tree berm” of willows to create a “chimney effect” for odor control.
The operation’s application shows the CFO will be centered on the farm’s property and well beyond the state-mandated 750-foot setback to adjoining residential property.
Sneed said Arthur’s application received 15 responses during the open public-comment period, and several of those were submitted by the same individuals.
With IDEM approval, the farm must now obtain building permits from the county; however, if the project complies with the relevant county building regulations and passes muster with the county surveyor on drainage issues, the permits will be issued, said county planner Mike Dale.
The proposed site is zoned agricultural, and a CFO is a permitted use within that zoning designation, Dale said.
“As long as he meets the various criteria and all the requirements are met, he gets the permit,” Dale said.
Having been in the area for as long as he has, Arthur said he understands it’s difficult to please everyone, but he’s doing the best he can.
“I understand their concerns,” he said. “I get it. I feel like my job is to be a good neighbor to everyone that’s all around here, and this is about as neutral a site as I can find.”