By Makenna Mays
INDIANAPOLIS – Surrounded by cornfields and farmland, Hill Farm sits far from any neighbor or residential business, and it is not until one is halfway up the family’s long gravel driveway that the smell of manure begins to register.
Marc and Heather Hill are fourth generation farmers, raising more than 30,000 pigs and 1,300 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat on their spread in Hancock County south of Greenfield.
“We feel it’s very important to open our doors and be transparent and to tell our farm’s story which is kind of representative of the majority if not all pig farms in Indiana,” said Heather Hill.
Hill Farm in Hancock. One of the many CAFOs in Indiana that could be affected by future legislation.
Photo by Makenna Mays, TheStatehouseFile.com
The Hills have a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, the technical term for a farming operation that confines 1,000 cattle, 2,500 swine when they are 55 pounds or more and 10,000 swine when they weigh less than 55 pounds.
Confined Feeding Operations, smaller farming operations, require that there be at least 300 cattle, 600 swine or sheep, 30,000 poultry or 500 horses.
CAFOs are currently the subject of controversy and repeated attempts to regulate owners of these kinds of operations of what they can and cannot do.
According to the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, there are roughly 57,500 farming operations in Indiana, 97 percent of which are family-owned such as the Hills’ farm in Hancock County.
Heather Hill and her husband Marc are just one of the many farm owners in Indiana concerned about the implications of future legislation on their business. This includes having the Environmental Protection Agency regulate manured fields and allowing input from neighbors and businesses when it comes to building farms, could have for their livelihoods.
While Indiana is largely an agriculture state, there are those who are worried about the implications these large farms have on the health of Hoosiers and the environment.
CAFOs, when not properly regulated, can pose a significant health risk to citizens as well as affecting quality of life, according to the Hoosier Environmental Council.
- Eighty-one percent of waterways are polluted with E. coli and other pathogens from livestock;
- CAFOs can release hydrogen sulfide and ammonia which, even at very low levels, can cause eye irritation and asthma symptoms;
- Unproperly regulated waste can lead to fly and other infestations;
- Those who live next to waterways have reported animal waste run-off; and
- Polluted waterways prevent recreation such as swimming and fishing.
Kim Ferraro, policy director and senior staff attorney for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said that this issue is not about choosing sides.
“The Hoosier Environmental Council recognizes that Indiana has long been an agricultural state and our push to have more protective safeguards in place in respect to CAFOs has nothing to do with being anti-farmer,” Ferraro said.
Portion of the barn where the adult pigs are kept.
Photo by Makenna Mays, TheStatehouseFile.com
However, Ferraro also said that from their perspective CAFOs are not farms but instead big industries.
“The regulations that apply to them treat them as if they were some sort of traditional farm,” said Ferraro. “Our position is that for many reasons, the regulations don’t adequately protect our environment and public health.”
Ultimately, Ferraro hopes that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management improves regulations such as the air emissions produced by CAFOs, provide greater setback from waterways and sensitive environmental areas, and offers better protection for people and public health with greater setback from existing residences. CAFO regulations differ in each county.
“Any heavy industry has to get clean air act permits and clean water act permits in order to restrict air pollutions emissions and we think that evidence shows is that the same needs to be applied to CAFOs,” Ferraro said.
Indiana is a top 10 agriculture state. It also has $31.2 million in direct economic output, and for every 10 jobs in agriculture, eight more are created in other industry sectors, according to data from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
“It’s not just about the bottom line or the dollar, so what we really have is a great nutrient management and conservation program in Indiana as well,” said Jeff Cummins, director of policy and regulatory affairs at Indiana State Department of Agriculture.
Farmers are aware of the issues surrounding large farm operations, and are making efforts to combat them.
Farmers have increased their no-till acreage, which is a way of farming without disturbing the soil. This allows for healthier soil which means less fertilizers are applied to fields. And in 2016, $13.3 million was invested by farmers to practice new conservation efforts.
“Really what this speaks to is farmers are still the best stewards of the land,” said Cummins.
However, Cummins is aware of the complaints lodged by concerned Hoosiers about these farms and believes that placing barns in the right location matters, he said.
There are agencies that pre-plan locations and make sure the farms are meeting setback requirements, and in cases where barns are not in an ideal location, they can be rejected at the local level.
Heather Hill is concerned that future legislation could cause potential obstacles for their farm because sometimes expansions are less about increasing size, and more about improving facilities.
When the Hills decided to build their barn four years ago, they didn’t necessarily expand their operation. Instead, they were able to stop using an old barn that did not allow them to provide the best possible care for their pigs. Now they are better equipped to care for their pigs, with technology that allows them to have a temperature controlled environment, and housing that allows them to move around freely.
“I think it’s important that we think about the whole big picture before we start creating new rules and regulations for pig farmers,” said Heather Hill.
While Heather Hill can only speak for her family and their operation, she is adamant that she is a mother before anything else, and would not do anything to adversely affect the environment that her kids live in.
“There’s nothing more important to me than the health of my kids,” said Hill. “We’re not going to do anything as pig farmers that would put my kid’s health or their environment in danger.”
Ferraro believes that responsible farm owners who are responsibly managing their CAFOs should have nothing to worry about.
“They shouldn’t be afraid of having safeguards in place to make sure that everyone else responsibly manages their CAFOs,” said Ferraro. “Simply because you have to act responsibly and everyone has to act responsibly actually creates a level playing field.”
Hill believes that there needs to be a compromise between farmers and those wanting to impose more restrictions on CAFOs.
“I think we just have to start thinking as Hoosiers and Americans you know okay if I don’t want pigs in my backyard, but I don’t want them raised like this, how are we going to raise them and where is our meat going to come from,” Hill said.
Hill fears the alternative that could potentially come if too many restrictions were imposed on Indiana farms.
“The thought that maybe our pork is going to have to come from foreign countries if we aren’t able to build new barns and raise pigs here like we do currently is very scary to me,” Hill said.
Makenna Mays is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.