Falling Pork Prices Slow Feed-Farm Growth

Indiana had been approving megafarm applications at a rising rate for several years.

But the recession, and especially falling pork prices, meant the number of new and expanding farms with thousands of hogs, cows and chickens has fallen sharply in the past couple of years.

Only nine new permits for concentrated animal feeding operations were issued last year, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. It was a level not seen since before Gov. Mitch Daniels took office in 2005 and pledged to double pork production in the state.

Environmentalists who would like to see more regulation say they had hoped the state would use the downturn in applications to address what they see as lapses in Indiana’s management of corporate farms, but that hasn’t happened.

Farmers say their recovery has begun, but they don’t expect a major rebound soon, which might give a state that desperately needs jobs a little more time to balance its environmental interests and its desire to court a $3 billion-a-year industry.

Permit slowdown

Concentrated animal feeding operations and confined feeding operations – known as CAFOs and CFOs – are both subject to some regulatory requirements.

Concentrated animal feeding operations, where large numbers of animals are fed and raised in environmentally controlled housing, must apply for a federal water permit through the Indiana Department of Environmental Management because of the possibility waste could accidentally enter water.

Activists say they have reason to be concerned, because having permits doesn’t prevent accidents. A Steuben County dairy farm several years ago was found in violation of numerous environmental standards, including allowing illegal waste discharges, one of several such instances around the state.

Neighbors of the large farms complain about the potential for well-water contamination and odor from animal waste stored in large lagoons and spread on farm fields.

But supporters say large-animal operations are a labor-efficient way to raise and protect animals from predators and some diseases and that they conserve land use and the vast majority of operators are environmentally responsible.

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