FILE - Pig Farm

In this Tuesday, June 25, 2019, photo, farmer Matthew Keller walks through one of his pig barns near Kenyon, Minn.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) will conduct a public meeting Tuesday, August 13, to gather comments about a proposed Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in Winn, a small community located south of Mt. Pleasant in Isabella County.

The proposed farm would be operated by Jon Peacock, and would house 4,800 hogs. The proposal has generated newspaper editorials from local groups opposed to CAFOs in general, ostensibly for environmental reasons. However, the Michigan Farm Bureau maintains these concerns are overstated given the state’s stringent environmental enforcement of large agricultural enterprises.

In an August 12 email to The Center Square, Farm Bureau spokesperson Laura Campbell stated: “We just got word about Mr. Peacock’s public meeting this morning so we haven’t had a chance to reach out to him about that hearing yet, but I can tell you we support the actions he is taking to comply with the strict rules Michigan maintains for operation of a permitted livestock farm.”

She continued: “Jon has been working hard with EGLE staff to ensure his farm will follow all the rules Michigan sets forth to protect water quality and air quality.”

An August 9 editorial in the Morning Sun, a newspaper covering Gratiot, Isabella and Clare counties, raised concerns potentially posed by the proposed CAFO. Written by John Mitchell, chairperson of Central Michigan CAFO Watch, a project of Mid-Michigan Network Sierra Club, the essay specifically addresses animal waste disposal and odors as well as potential runoff into local waterways.

Campbell countered Mitchell’s claims, stating that the Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan, created by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, requires a farm report how they’ll “safely collect, store and land apply ever bit of manure their livestock will produce.”

She added: “These plans are required to be submitted with a farm’s permit, and include specific regulations on how to land apply the nutrients in manure including incorporation into the soil, how far back they must stay from waterways, wellheads and other sensitive areas, the restrictions controlling application on frozen or snow covered ground, and the amount of manure to apply, to ensure they don’t exceed the soil and crop capacity. Additional restrictions on land application apply to impaired watersheds, to ensure a permitted farm doesn’t contribute to a watershed’s impairment,” she wrote.

Any manure transferred from one farm to another (a practice called manifesting) requires permits that restrict the application of the manifested product as well as strict documenting procedures. “Manifests, including how much manure was sent, who received it, where they apply it and at what rate, are required to be kept on the farm as part of the permit records so that EGLE can inspect them at any time in case there is a problem, runoff or spill caused by a receiving farm,” Campbell said.

Addressing Mitchell’s unease concerning air contaminants, Campbell noted: “Under Part 55 of Michigan’s Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, which covers air pollution control, normal farm odors and dust are not considered sources of air pollution if they follow the state’s Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices.”

She added: “Livestock farms are still prohibited from causing any unlawful pollution of the air. For a livestock farm, the main air emissions they are concerned with are ammonia and hydrogen sulfide, which are emitted as part of the natural breakdown process of manure. Those emissions are generally low, which is why they’re not included in federal reporting requirements under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.”

Because it’s in the best interests of the health and safety of the communities in which CAFOs operate, Campbell said: “Livestock farms work hard to reduce the risk of air pollution and must comply with state and federal air quality, worker safety, and animal protection statutes.”

Campbell concluded: “Part of following neighbor protection includes permitted livestock farms using the Michigan OFFSET Odor Model when planning a new or expanded farm site to determine whether odors and other air emissions might reach neighboring areas, and adjust locations and/or practices on the farm to reduce the risk of odors and air emissions from affecting surrounding areas. This model includes protection of sensitive areas like schools, hospitals, day cares churches, and other public facilities.”  

The public hearing for comments on Peacock Pork, 8675 S. Vandecar Road, will be held by EGLE on Tuesday, Aug. 13, at 6 p.m. at the Deerfield Township Hall (corner of M20 and Winn Road). 

Regional Editor

Bruce Walker is a regional editor at The Center Square. He previously worked as editor at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s MichiganScience magazine and The Heartland Institute’s InfoTech & Telecom News.