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Legislators tackle livestock headaches

by 5m Editor
4 March 2007, at 6:35pm

INDIANAPOLIS - Rural Indiana residents have complained for years about the stench and dust wafting from the state's largest livestock farms.

Those concerns are reflected in several bills this legislative session aimed at tightening the farms' regulation.

As lawmakers debate that legislation, however, records show state regulators are approving the sprawling, factory-style farms at a record rate.

Last year alone, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved 106 of the very largest of these farms, clearing the way for more than 2.4 million animals at new farms, according to department records.

Those 106 farms are the largest number of concentrated animal feeding operations that the agency has approved in a single year since it began giving them separate approval in 2003 from smaller farms known as confined feeding operations.

In fact, last year's approvals of the largest farms represent more than the agency endorsed in the previous three years combined, records show.

Sandra Flum, the department's director of intergovernmental affairs, said the agency saw a "significant increase" last year in applications to build new livestock farms, with requests rising from about 120 in 2005 to about 160 last year.

"We were much busier last year processing permits and getting approvals together," she said.

Deb Abbott, a spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, said the increase in the concentrated farms -- most of them for hogs -- is largely because of strong market opportunities for producers.

Shortly after taking office in 2005, Gov. Mitch Daniels called for the state to double its hog production within several years, seeking to expand an industry that already contributes about $3 billion annually to Indiana's economy.

Abbott said Indiana is now attracting a growing number of pork-packing factories that have, in turn, spurred hog production.

"It's good news. It's showing that local communities are taking advantage of that, that farmers are seeing the opportunities and acting on them," she said.

But for many, the increase is worrisome.

Sen. Allen Paul, R-Richmond, said the surge is a top issue in his district.

Many of his constituents are worried about falling property values, odors that can become overwhelming and manure runoff possibly reaching their well water, he said.

"There are a lot of people who feel we need to slow this system down and really make sure that we're setting the right rules and doing the right thing by the environment," said Paul, who sponsored a bill that would impose a three-year moratorium on construction of new concentrated farms.

His bill never came to a vote in the Senate, but Paul said he's hopeful some type of moratorium could be included in one of the livestock bills still alive in the General Assembly.

Lawmakers also are considering bills that would, among other things, boost permit fees to help pay for more frequent livestock farm inspections and require the farms to be at least a mile from cities, towns, schools and nursing homes.

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock questions whether those measures are needed and said the state's livestock industry is working to reach compromises with lawmakers.

Source: courier-journal.com

5m Editor