HANCOCK COUNTY — Wearing plastic boots over his shoes to mitigate tracking something in that could purge his herd, Lloyd Arthur turns on his heels in one of the long barns of his hog farm to check on some piglets that are clearly not happy, the danger being that they were inadvertently laid upon by the sow.
“It’s just a brother and sister fighting,” Arthur said, returning from the farrowing barn.
The quarreling swine siblings are just two of hundreds of newborns at Arthur’s confined feeding operation in southwest Hancock County.
Another dust-up is brewing just across the field, however, as Arthur’s plans to expand his hog operation have mobilized nearby homeowners who are concerned about the implications of living next to a farm with the capacity to raise thousands of hogs along with their byproducts.
In May, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which reviews, approves and regulates confined feeding operations, approved Arthur’s Inc.’s CFO application to construct two animal barns at approximately 1500 E. CR 300S.
The new barns will modernize the family’s existing hog production, which has been operating there for more than 60 years, Arthur said.
“There’s a reason there are no old hog barns,” he said. “You can build a new one and do a lot better.”
According to the farm’s IDEM application, 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 will be built.
The barns are temperature- controlled, and the animals are closely monitored, tracked and treated to ensure their health.
With 100 hogs to a pen, one sick pig has the potential to become a swine wildfire.
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.
Recent legislative changes now label all confined feeding operations CFOs with larger facilities known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations considered a subcategory.
Considering Arthur’s three locations along with the proposed new site, his farm is a CAFO-sized CFO, he said.
Though he has state approval in hand, the Arthur family is currently curing land title issues on the property to pass county rules pertaining to property line setback requirements; however, once those matters are cleared and assuming compliance with all local building regulations, county planning director Mike Dale told the Hancock County Area Plan Commission there would be no technical barriers to issuing a building permit.
The operation is a permitted use on the land, Dale said.
Dale is also aware, however, that his issuance of a permit will be almost undoubtedly appealed to the county board of zoning appeals.
Kurt Vetters, a 20-year county resident, sits in the dining room of his two-story brick suburban home less than two miles north as the crow flies of where Arthur’s new barns will be, and he said he’s concerned about a host of issues, not the least of which is the value of his house.
“We bought here in November, and this is physically going to cost us $30,000 to $40,000,” Vetters said, pointing to tables and figures arguing that regulated livestock operations have a decidedly negative effect on surrounding property values.
Vetters and his wife, Donna Steele, are among those spearheading SOS (Save our Surroundings) Hancock County to oppose the expansion.
“This is not about fighting a farmer’s right to use his land,” Vetters said.
In addition to property values, the issues involve quality of life, the future economic development of Greenfield and safety, Vetters said.
According to its literature, the group plans to educate the public along with county and city officials on “the health, environmental, economic and tax disadvantages of being within a two-mile radius of CAFOs/CFOs.”
“Hancock County has changed,” Steele said. “It’s not the Hancock County of 50 years ago. This is not your granddaddy’s farm; this is industry.”
While it’s true the county has become more urbanized, it’s also true the overall pig population has gone down, said Steve Howell, director of IDEM’s Office of Government and Community Affairs.
“There used to be more pigs than people,” he said.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the county’s hog inventory stood at 60,417 in 1950. That number dropped to just over 37,000 by 2002, and the USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture showed 43,675 hogs and pigs on 44 county farms. In 1997, there were 65 hog farms in the county, government statistics show.
Though farm numbers have diminished, production and head count are maintained by the more intensive uses.
Arthur maintains operations like his “are the most efficient way to raise hogs.”
Opponents, however, argue that packing that many animals into a confined space “creates its own ecosystem” and point to studies and articles suggesting a correlation between high-density livestock production and health risks, especially as it pertains to spreading swine manure as crop fertilizer.
Arthur counters that the manure stored in the eight-foot concrete tanks below the barns provides him with only half the fertilizer he needs annually, and IDEM, whose permitting process focuses on water quality and the effects of farmland runoff, claims the CFOs are actually better for the environment.
The state’s CFO regulation program, which went into effect in 1971, prescribes and manages storage and application of the manure for the 1,890 regulated farms in Indiana.
“On a controlled farm, the manure is controlled,” Howell said. “There are lots of precautions, and if something does go wrong, we have the authority to require a clean-up,” he said.
Howell said he is not aware of any contamination breaches from the state’s farms.
For Vetters and others in the surrounding subdivisions that include Bowman Acres, Bomar Manor, Grey Hawk and The Trails, it’s the perceived possibility of calamity that is bothersome.
“Accidents happen,” he said.
SOS Hancock County is building a legal fund to challenge the current expansion, but it also hopes to start a discussion about how to proactively deal with the apparent conflict between big agriculture and suburbia.
However, future measures to find a fulcrum for balancing non-agricultural expansion with farming operations in a historically agricultural county are unclear.
Some would like to see a fringe or buffer zone to ring the city and provide a measure of distance between urban development and intensive livestock uses, providing a certain amount of predictability for future development.
“If we don’t get a buffer zone,” Vetters wonders, “you don’t know where the next one will go.
However, Dale said a buffer zone was previously attempted by the town of Cumberland, and it was not successful.
The town attempted to create a “sphere of influence” extending beyond its borders to regulate property owners’ activity in the zone.
That raised a jurisdictional issue revolving around who could tell whom to do what.
“The people living out in the county but within the sphere of influence thought they had no political representation,” Dale said.
Absent intergovernmental cooperation or a quasi-governmental entity with regional authority, establishing the parameters for such a zone could be problematic.
“I see it as unlikely,” Dale said.
Despite an unclear road to compromise, Vetters said he continues to hope for a way to strike a balance between those who live on the land for different reasons.
“I hope this is a story that doesn’t have a loser,” Vetters said.
“I hope he finds a profitable way to run his business, and we find a way not to see a drop in our property values.”