State legislators tour hog farm, face critics
JASPER About two dozen state legislators concluded a two-day tour Wednesday of what have become the two of the most discussed features of Newton County in recent months: the Buffalo National River and C&H Hog Farms.
Tuesday, after a presentation on the Buffalo National River’s founding and history by Kevin Cheri and information about the river’s impact on tourism in the state by Department of Parks and Tourism Director Richard Davies, the lawmakers managed to float a portion of the river during a brief respite from the day’s rains. Wednesday, legislators heard from two area organic farmers before touring C&H Hog Farms, the large-scale concentrated animal-feeding operation in Mount Judea. After the tour, about a half-dozen of the legislators drove to the Ozark Cafe in Jasper for a late lunch sponsored by Cargill Inc. C&H Hog Farms is contracted to provide piglets for Cargill’s pork production operations.
Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, said he was impressed by his tour of the farm.
“I was amazed at the air quality,” Lenderman said. “From 30 feet away, you could barely smell the hog operation. It looked to me that they had gone above and beyond the call as far as making sure they were in compliance with all current environmental regulations.”
As the legislators ate their meal in the Ozark Cafe, about 60 protesters stood on the lawn of the Newton County Courthouse, which sits directly across the street. Most were affiliated with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which has publicly protested C&H Hog Farms and filed a notice of intent to sue the Farm Service Agency, which provided the environmental assessment for the farm site and helped guarantee the loan to build the facility.
Much of the concern regarding the farm focused on fears that waste from the farm, which is permitted to house about 2,500 full-grown sows and as many as 4,000 piglets at one time, will pollute either the area’s groundwater through its karst geology, surface waters through runoff into nearby Big Creek, or both.
“If they’re monitoring the water quality like they’re supposed to do, I think this is an unfounded fear,” Lenderman said. “I think [the owners of C&H Hog Farms] will be good neighbors.”
As the legislators continued to eat Wednesday, members of the protest alliance gradually put away their signs and filtered into the Ozark Cafe to eat, in some cases sitting at adjacent tables from the politicians.
Gordon Watkins, an organizer with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance and an organic farmer and rental-cabin owner in Parthenon, sat with other protesters in the cafe’s large secondary dining area, only feet away from Lenderman and the event’s organizer, Rep. David Branscum, R-Marshall.
Watkins said he found the mixture of events connected with the tour confusing.
“I’m not really clear what the goal was,” Watkins said. “If it was to expose members of the [Agricultural] Committee to the Buffalo River area, I didn’t see how the hog farm fit into that.”
Watkins also said that bringing in organic farmers to speak to the legislators might cause some lawmakers to conflate organic farming with the concentrated animal-feeding operation, an idea Watkins said is patently false.
Watkins said that although none of the legislators crossed the street to speak with him or any of his fellow protesters, he felt it was a good opportunity to let the lawmakers know that many of the state’s residents were concerned about the farm’s operation.
“We were here to let these folks know, loud and clear, that there are folks really concerned about the Buffalo River, and we think this hog farm is risky business,” Watkins said. “Not everybody thinks this is the greatest thing since a pocket on a shirt.”