Buffalo River Watershed Alliance
FRAN ALEXANDER: Not out of the blue
Saving of Buffalo River — again — took committed advocates
by Fran Alexander
"I could not not do something."
-- Ginny Masullo,
Buffalo River activist
Over years of observing the process of participation in our political system by citizens wanting either to change or to create something entirely new for their community, state or nation, I've seen a consistent thread. Real grass-roots work takes sacrifice and selflessness. Oh, I know NIMBY accusations are thrown at folks, who are told they are selfishly defending their immediate turf, but "not in my back yard" falls apart as an intimidation tactic if people can make a case that their grievances affect the whole.
John Donne's "no man is an island; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main," is at the core of why activism of any kind succeeds, because the first order of business in any effort is to find others who feel as you do. You cannot remain an island in a complex society if you're trying to change things. Yet, oftentimes in the beginning of some issues, things can feel quite lonely until others begin to show up to talk and develop goals and actions.
The fight to save the Buffalo River -- again -- is a textbook case of grass-roots struggle. The closure of the hog farm in the river's watershed is now just in its beginning phase. Multiple stages of legal and financial hoops must be jumped through before anyone can breathe easy that the river will no longer be victim to spreading of thousands of gallons of hog manure on fields, which continues until the facility's final closure months from now.
Protection for this watershed did not just happen in a vacuum or isolation. It took over six years of work by people whose names you don't know and whose faces you would not recognize. After learning the state, with little public notice, had permitted this hog farm to be built, people began to come together from small towns and rural areas near the river and eventually from across Arkansas and other states.
They brought different perspectives, strategies, talents, professions and passions to focus on the goal of protecting this river from pollution. One person with a science background told me her first action was researching water all the way from the U.S. Clean Water Act down to the components in hog manure, and reading every law, permit and research document she could find. Others did the physical work of water testing in the watershed, including in caves. Some people concentrated on how the state's permitting process worked, or didn't, and others sought legal avenues.
To hire lawyers meant fundraising, and for six years organizations held silent auctions, dinners, educational programs, and numerous letter-writing events. They personally lobbied legislators, had a farmers market table for five years, applied for grants, sought national organizations' help, printed bumper stickers and handouts, spoke to civic groups and analyzed other factory farm battles.
And then there was the music. Donna and Kelly Mulhollan of Still On the Hill traveled the state singing only of the beauty and history of the river and giving away their "Still A River" CDs at about 20 free concerts. Close to 10 large concerts and numerous small ones were donated by musicians and organized, publicized and run by volunteers. Photographers, artists, crafts artisans and others donated their works to raise money. Journalist Mike Masterson kept updating the Buffalo's status in the press, reminding readers that this natural wonder, the state's crown jewel, was being killed.
Participating organizations were the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, the Arkansas Canoe Club, the Ozark Society, the Ozark River Stewards, Friends of the North Fork and White Rivers, the White River Waterkeeper, the National Parks Conservation Association, Earth Justice and the Nature Conservancy.
Unpaid volunteers traveled across the state at their own expense for hundreds of hours of meetings and fundraisers and to Little Rock for hearings and to meet with legislators. People put their lives on hold, one leader devoting 20 to 30 hours a week to the effort, while others risked their jobs and some even received threats. Activism is not for the weak of heart or faint of spirit. It is passion driven. And to win, resolve must not drop.
We should all thank Gov. Asa Hutchinson for finally correcting a wrong decision by a state agency during Gov. Mike Beebe's term. And the governor should in turn thank those people of Arkansas, who took six years out of their lives to save this river -- again.
Commentary on 08/27/2019
by Linda Satter | August 14, 2019
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and seven other media organizations have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a federal lawsuit challenging what animal-welfare groups call the "Arkansas Ag-Gag" law.
The lawsuit was filed June 25 by four legal-advocacy groups -- the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Equality, Center for Biological Diversity and Food Chain Workers Alliance -- to challenge the constitutionality of Arkansas Code 16-118-113, which was enacted in 2017.
The plaintiffs say the law allows farm organizations to protect themselves from undercover investigations by animal-advocacy groups.
The defendants are state Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio, and her husband, Jonathan Vaught, as well as Peco Foods Inc., an Alabama-based poultry farm that has facilities in Arkansas. The Vaughts own a hog farm called Prayer Creek Farm in Horatio, which the lawsuit says can house 1,200 pigs.
The organizations say they want to send undercover investigators into Prayer Creek Farms and Peco Foods but can't because of the 2017 law, which they say violates the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
DeAnn Vaught was behind the law, which creates an avenue for civil litigation against anyone who releases documents or recordings from a non-public area of commercial property with the intent of causing harm to the owner. The law was backed by the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, the Agricultural Council of Arkansas and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Legislators said at the time that the law would do nothing to subvert state and federal protections for people who expose illegal practices. The sponsor -- Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Branch -- said manufacturing plants in Arkansas have "processes" that keep them in business but are off-limits to cameras.
But the advocacy groups say the threat of penalty is an effort by the industry to hide production methods, and is part of a nationwide effort to suppress speech by penalizing investigations meant to reveal illegal and unethical conduct in the animal agriculture industry.
In a brief filed Monday, the group led by the Reporters Committee, a nonprofit association of reporters and editors with no parent corporation and no stock, urges U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. to deny the defendants' motion to dismiss.
"As news media outlets and organizations dedicated to defending the First Amendment and the news-gathering rights of journalists, amici have a strong interest in this case," the brief states, adding that the news groups "have a powerful interest in ensuring that journalists are able to report on matters of concern to the public without facing unconstitutional impediments to their news-gathering activities."
"The ability of whistleblowers and other sources to inform journalists of dangerous, illegal, or unethical activities -- and to provide documentation and evidence of those activities -- without fear of criminal liability -- is central to journalists' ability to do their jobs effectively," says the brief filed by attorney Alec Gaines of the Williams and Anderson law firm in Little Rock.
The other news groups joining in the brief are the American Society of News Editors, the Associated Press Media Editors, the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, the International Documentary Association, The Media Institute, Radio Television Digital News Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.
In a brief filed July 19 in support of Peco Foods' motion to dismiss, attorney Michael B. Heister with the Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull firm in Little Rock argued that the lawsuit isn't the result of an actual dispute but instead seeks an advisory opinion. He said the plaintiffs want to know that if they take certain actions and are sued, the law -- also known as the Trespass Statute -- will be deemed to have been violated. But "a bunch of 'ifs' does not create a valid case or controversy" that a federal judge is permitted to resolve, Heister added.
He called the law in question "straightforward," saying it provides a civil course of action for businesses against anyone who obtains access to the business under false pretenses; goes into a non-public, off-limits area; and "commits unauthorized acts," such as stealing documents or planting hidden cameras, that damage the operator.
The defense contends that the plaintiffs lack standing, a vested interest in the outcome, to pursue a lawsuit, "and, in any event, cannot sue a private party for these alleged constitutional violations."
The news groups' brief argues, "Members of the public cannot themselves monitor the agricultural facilities that produce their food; they depend on members of the media to do so, and to keep them informed about matters implicating health and safety. [The 2017 law] stymies the ability of news organizations to gather news and report on such matters of significant public interest."
The brief argues that state laws intended to protect the agricultural industry by concealing practices and penalizing whistleblowers have consistently been struck down as unconstitutional.
Metro on 08/14/2019
MASTERSON ONLINE: Saving our Buffalo
Many Arkansas rightfully wondered a year ago if the hog factory our state wrongheadedly permitted into the fragile Buffalo National River watershed in 2012 would forever be spraying millions of gallons of raw waste onto fields along a major tributary of the river flowing six miles upstream of the Buffalo.
Thankfully, that answer came not long ago when Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced C&H Hog Farms would be bought out, closed and cleaned up at a fair price. His decision and announcement brought squeals of delight and some tickled-pink rejoicing across Arkansas.
Little wonder since many thousands among us, along with more than a million out-of-state visitors, each year enjoy the magnificence and beauty of the country's first national river flowing through the heart of the Ozarks.
And now, a story by reporter Emily Walkenhorst says the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission is moving to establish protections that would ensure medium and large hog farms are permanently banned from setting up shop in this fragile and porous watershed.
Farms are federally classified as small, medium or large. Medium facilities are defined as 750 or more swine of over 55 pounds, or 3,000 or more hogs weighing 55 pounds or less. Such meat producers have been banned in the watershed since 2014, but only only temporarily, pending the conclusion of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team's research on C&H's impact on Big Creek and the Buffalo River, Walkenhorst wrote.
While many remain pleased by the prospect of a permanent ban in the Buffalo watershed, there lingers the relevant question of how our Department of Environmental Quality (cough) could have permitted this factory into a region this same department actively protected by moratorium just two decades ago.
Who in the agency quietly helped shepherd this destructive plan through to completion? What outside lobbying interests also helped push it? Why would public employees at the time assist Cargill in making it happen, especially without the agency director at the time even knowing her department had issued the permit?
Listen to a 1992 interview with Dr. Neil Compton on KUAF Radio
By KYLE KELLAMS • AUG 9, 2019
Tomorrow is Dr. Compton Day in Bentonville, honoring the man who played a central role in saving the Buffalo River. In 1992, Neil Compton talked to us about his book, Battle for the the Buffalo.
NWA EDITORIAL: A dramatic pausePanel surprises with hesitance to protect Buffaloby NWA Democrat-Gazette
Gov. Asa Hutchinson took a strong lead in protecting the Buffalo National River when he worked out a deal that would shutter C&H Hog Farm, that large-scale operation near a tributary to the state's most important river.
OK, we'll grant you that the Arkansas River is pretty vital, what with all the commerce flowing from its waters. But in terms of tourism and environmental protection, it's hard to think of any waterway so important to who we are as Arkansans as the Buffalo.
What’s the point?
It’s astonishing the state Pollution Control and Ecology Commission hesitated to begin a rule-making process to protect the Buffalo National River.
The hog farm should never have been authorized by the state. The governor stressed in announcing the state's $6.2 million buyout of the farm that its owners did everything expected of them in licensing their operation. The problem was the state simply didn't expect enough.
For most Arkansans, keeping large sources of potential pollutant-producing materials out of the Buffalo's watershed is a no-brainer. Then, apparently, there's the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission.
By it's title, one might think pollution control and ecology might be important factors to this state panel. It's a reasonable presumption. Not necessarily an accurate one, but a reasonable one.
We point to the commission's last meeting, at which members approved the beginning of a rule-making process to permanently ban hog farms of a federally classified large to medium size from the Buffalo River watershed. A temporary ban has been in effect since 2014.
The outcome belies the fragility of the commission's apparent commitment. When Commissioner Doug Melton made a motion to support the rule-making, it required the parliamentary second. Matters that aren't seconded die. And Melton's motion hung in the air for an extended period of silence.
Commissioner Mike Freeze instead made a motion, quickly seconded, to delay the proposal until the next meeting. It couldn't be considered, though, because Melton's motion took precedence.
It's flabbergasting this panel wouldn't eagerly embrace a measure to protect the Buffalo National River. It took a recess and considerable consultation before its members became satisfied enough that starting the rule-making process doesn't mean the rule is written in stone. In fact, it doesn't mean the rule is written at all. That's what the process is all about, and it's got to start somewhere.
We get it: Some people don't believe the hog farm polluted or threatened to pollute anything. Some people are worried agricultural operations, of which there are plenty in Arkansas, might be impacted more by politics than by science.
But state leaders of all stripes should recognize the Buffalo River is the state's gem of gems. Of all places, the state should not play games with possible ecological damage to the Buffalo.
Save the Buffalo, indeed.
Commentary on 08/03/2019
Arkansas panel backs effort on hog-farm ban; Buffalo watershed is focus of proposed rule
by Emily Walkenhorst
Environmental regulators are moving forward with a plan that would prevent a farm like C&H Hog Farms from building again in the Buffalo National River's watershed.
The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission on Friday approved, without opposition, the beginning of a rule-making process to permanently ban hog farms of a federally classified medium or large size from the watershed.
The proposed permanent ban will go out for public comment later this year, and a public hearing will be held. After the public input, state legislative committees must additionally review the proposed ban and allow the rule-making to proceed.
Farms are federally classified as small, medium or large. Medium hog farms are defined as having 750 or more swine of more than 55 pounds, or 3,000 or more swine of 55 pounds or less.
Such farms have been banned since 2014 but only on a temporary basis, pending the conclusion of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team's research on the effect of C&H Hog Farms on Big Creek and the Buffalo National River.
C&H is a large-scale hog farm that sits within the Buffalo National River's watershed. It has been the subject of yearslong environmental concerns and will close in the coming months after reaching a $6.2 million buyout agreement with the state in June.
After signing the buyout agreement with C&H owners, Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked state environmental regulators to petition to make the temporary ban permanent.
The final research report is expected in the coming weeks.
After Friday's meeting, supporters of the ban and opponents of C&H said they were glad to see the rule-making move forward but were disappointed with how the meeting proceeded.
"It was a little disturbing that there wasn't more vigorous support," said Gordon Watkins, president of the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance, which formed in 2013 to oppose C&H's operations in the watershed.
Minutes before Friday's vote to move forward with the ban proposal, the commission appeared poised to reject it.
Commissioner Doug Melton, a governor appointee, made a motion to support the rule-making, proposed by the Arkansas Department of Energy and Environment's Division of Environmental Quality. He received no seconds to the motion from the other commissioners. Commissioners paused for an extended silence to listen for a possible second to the motion.
"I was shocked that we would not consider the approval of this minute order," Melton said.
Melton said he texted the governor during the meeting, who expressed surprise that the commission would not consider the ban. Hutchinson confirmed the conversation after the meeting.
"Yes, I shared my view that the rule should go forward for public comment, and I reiterated my support for making the current ban on large-scale hog permits in the Buffalo River permanent," the governor said in a statement released to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Before Melton's motion, Commissioner Mike Freeze, another governor appointee, raised objections to starting the rule-making before C&H had the money from the state to close down. Not everything required by the buyout agreement has been completed.
"I can assure you, it's not a done deal," Freeze said.
The proposed ban does not include a clause that would grandfather in existing medium or large hog farms. C&H is the only large hog farm in the watershed.
Freeze made a motion, which was quickly seconded, to delay the proposal until next month's meeting when, he anticipated, everything would be in place for C&H's closure. But the motion could not officially be considered because Melton's unseconded motion was still on the floor.
Richard McMullen, the commission's designee from the state Health Department, then seconded Melton's motion.
Freeze expressed frustration on the point of order because he supports the ban but would have to vote against starting the rule-making process for it now.
Mike McAlister, managing attorney for the Division of Environmental Quality, said a series of steps needs to be taken before the state can deposit the $6.2 million in closure funds and other compensation into escrow for eventual delivery to the farm's owners.
The division must write a closure plan, then certify delivery of the closure plan to C&H, which must then dismiss with prejudice "all legal proceedings," according to the buyout agreement. After that, the escrow agent will deliver the executed conservation easement for the land and disburse the money.
C&H has appealed to circuit court the rejection of its permit application and other issues related to it and has sued the Division of Environmental Quality over alleged noncompliance with the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act.
Delia Hawk, a farmer and a new governor-appointed commissioner, asked McAlister if the Big Creek Research and Extension Team report would be completed soon. Members of the public should have a chance to consider it in their comments, she said.
McAlister told commissioners that rule-making processes typically last a few months or more and that public-comment periods can be extended.
After some discussion on the terms of C&H's buyout agreement and the rule-making process, Freeze requested a 10-minute recess, which commission Chairman Robert Reynolds approved.
Freeze spent much of the recess on his cellphone, which he later told the Democrat-Gazette was because he had received questions from his fish farm's employees all morning.
When the meeting restarted, Freeze was the first member to speak.
"I've been informed that even if we initiate the rule-making ... if the [buyout] deal fell through ... we have the ability at that time to oppose the moratorium," he said. "Given that, I'm willing to withdraw my motion, though I guess it's not on the floor."
Once a rule-making process is initiated, McAlister said, officials can modify it.
"If the changes are material and significant, it usually results in a new draft and a new round of notice and comments saying, 'Look, we've made some changes. Here's where we are now,'" he said.
If the commissioners didn't like the proposed rule anymore, they could reject it, McAlister said.
The commission, without opposition, then approved starting the ban's rule-making process.
C&H Hog Farms opened in 2013 along Big Creek, about 6.6 miles from where it drains into the Buffalo River. The farm houses up to 6,503 hogs. Not long after the farm opened, conservation groups and others voiced concerns about its potential to pollute the Buffalo River and about the regulations that supported its construction.
In 2018, the then-Department of Environmental Quality placed Big Creek and the Buffalo River near Big Creek on its list of impaired water bodies that it submits every other year to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It did not attribute the pollution to the farm but acknowledged it is a potential pollution source.
No research has definitively shown Buffalo River pollution caused by C&H.
The Buffalo River attracts more than 1 million visitors annually. The National Park Service estimated 1.2 million visitors spent $54.9 million in the region in 2018.
A Section on 07/27/2019
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Process to ban medium, large hog farms in state's Buffalo watershed moves forward
The Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission has started a rule-making process that would make permanent the ban against medium or large hog farms in the Buffalo National River's watershed.
The proposed permanent ban will go out for public comment later this year, and officials will hold a public hearing.
Farms are federally classified as small, medium or large, and medium hog farms are defined as 750 or more swine of more than 55 pounds or 3,000 or more hogs of 55 pounds or less.
Such farms have been banned since 2014 but only on a temporary basis, pending the conclusion of the Big Creek Research and Extension Team's research on the impact of C&H Hog Farms on Big Creek and the Buffalo River.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, after signing a buyout agreement with C&H owners that would close the farm in the coming months, asked state environmental regulators to petition to make the ban permanent.
Eureka Springs Independent
Not everyone was entirely pleased with the recent $6.2 million settlement to buy a conservation easement at C&H Farms where a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) near Mount Judea was permitted to grow 6,500 hogs indoors. There were concerns about being paid to stop pollution that never should have been allowed in the first place.
Although the owners claimed there was no proof that the operation was linked to decreasing water quality and large algae blooms in the Big Creek and the Buffalo National River, opponents pointed to evidence that the liquid waste spray fields around the facility were over saturated with phosphorus, a nutrient well known to cause oxygen deprivation and algae blooms.
Officials with the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance (BRWA), which was established because of the hog factory, said the settlement was a major victory that will allow the CAFO to be shut down and more pollution avoided.
“Of all the possible resolutions to this, we think this is absolutely the best,” Jack Stewart, BRWA co-founder and vice president, said. “If we would have won in the court, it would have taken a couple more years and untold amounts of money. The cost of lawyers and expert witnesses is through the roof, $400 to $500 an hour. And it wasn’t even so much the economics of it, but all the time there would be increasing phosphorus in the surrounding fields that could leak into Big Creek or contaminate underground streams.”
Stewart said if C&H had been shut down without compensation, there could have been a strong blowback in the local community because C&H had supporters.
“This way they have been made whole,” Stewart said. “While six million sounds like an awful lot of money, some is going be used to eliminate their debt, and the settlement is split among three farmers. This was their livelihood. While there has been a complaint about the taxpayers being involved, we are culpable in a way because we have allowed our Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to get away with these kinds of things.”
The issue of debt has come up recently with news reports the Arkansas Legislative Council has granted its leaders the authority to approve the governor’s funding request only if the state has the first lien position on the property in the conservation easement. Stewart said that addresses the issue some people had with a lack of transparency about the settlement; that action shows that this wasn’t just a back room deal with no public oversight.
The ADEQ permit for the large CAFO was issued in 2012 with the only notice being a small legal ad. Most locals didn’t know about the facility until it was under construction. Recently ADEQ denied a new permit to the facility, and that decision was under appeal.
Concerning the issue of C&H and its ally, the Arkansas Farm Bureau, saying there was no proof that the CAFO was polluting, Stewart said it has been well-established elsewhere in the country, such as in North Carolina, that CAFO hog waste caused major declines in water quality and massive fish kills. Locals observed that water quality had declined and algae blooms increased since the Mount Judea CAFO started operating.
“The more you learn about CAFOs, the more you see how terrible they are,” Stewart said. “But that is a worldwide issue. These big corporations are sending their method of so-called agriculture all over the world. My issue is that we promised the nation, when we set aside the area around the Buffalo River, that we were going to protect it for present and future generations. If we can’t protect the Buffalo River, everything is vulnerable.”
About claims that the settlement subverted the claims process, Stewart said it didn’t go through the state claims commission, which has a low limit on the amount of money channeled through it.
“It was about as upfront as it could be because to say the buyout was going to happen would have made the price would go up,” Stewart, a former member of the National Audubon Society Board of Directors, said. “It had to be done tactfully because C&H was under pressure with these lawsuits. One thing that took them into being willing to negotiate was the Arkansas Supreme Court agreed to take our case.”
BRWA had argued that a local judge didn’t have jurisdiction over ADEQ in acting to give C&H permission to continue to operate on an expired permit while the issue made its way through the courts.
Once the buyout was announced, that lawsuit was put on hold. But Stewart said they haven’t backed off on it yet because they want everything finalized before dropping the lawsuit.
Another concern was that the settlement could let the C&H owners off the hook for future liability. But Stewart said there is nothing in writing that exonerates C&H from future liability if it is found it harmed endangered species or caused other environmental degradation.
“Have they been exonerated? No, they have not,” he said. “The governor took responsibility for ADEQ even though it wasn’t under his administration. Our lawyers tell us that C&H still could be liable for damage, particularly if it is an endangered species. I have to give the governor credit. This was tough politically to buck the Farm Bureau. It took a lot of his political skills. And our understanding is that his office has been flooded with thank you calls.”
The impact from the hog waste is expected to continue for years. Flyovers have shown the hog lagoons are full.
“We plan to carefully monitor the cleanup process as soon as details are made available and there will be a public comment period,” Stewart said. “We have also hired a consulting firm.”
One other concern was that another hog operation could come into the same area if there is not a permanent moratorium on not just large, but also medium CAFOs. Stewart said ADEQ made it clear in the just-released permanent moratorium language that medium CAFOs will also be prohibited.
“We will be watching closely in case there is an attempt to weaken any part of the language during the comment period,” Stewart said.
Stewart thinks it highly unlikely another CAFO will be allowed to operate in the karst geology of the Buffalo River watershed and ADEQ is now taking a harder look before permitting similar facilities in the state.
The issue has had implications far beyond Arkansas. Recently a CAFO was turned town in Michigan in a karst area after the Buffalo National River case was referenced. Also, because of concerns raised in BRWA lawsuits about the way that funding was approved, the Small Business Administration and the Farm Service Agency have changed procedures for loan guarantees of this type.
The Buffalo River was first threatened by dams in the 1960s. The dams were stopped and the Buffalo became the first national river in 1972. The first big threat had the bumper sticker slogan: Save the Buffalo River. The hog waste issue’s bumper sticker said: Save the Buffalo River Again. Stewart said they now have a new bumper sticker: Save the Buffalo River Forever.
Foreigners get large slice of pork aid
by Nathan Owens | July 12, 2019 at 1:48 a.m.
Some of the world's largest meat processors have won bids, worth tens of millions of dollars, from a federal program set up last year to help pork farmers stung by the ongoing trade war.
JBS USA, a subsidiary owned by a Brazilian meatpacker, has been awarded the lion's share of the bids, while competitors Tyson Foods, Cargill and others have earned far less, according to bid award data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Trade Mitigation Program, established after major trade partners China, Canada, Mexico and others began retaliating against the U.S. for tariffs placed on imports, were meant to offset harm to U.S. farmers and producers. Critics argue the companies obtaining most of the federal support are foreign-based and shouldn't be eligible for the program, even if the growers live in the U.S. However, industry veterans say the farmers will feel relief in the form of a trickle-down effect from the meatpacker.
"It's a foreign-owned company and getting U.S. support payments. On the surface, it sounds a little non-kosher, if you will, but it's still U.S. product raised by U.S. producers," said Travis Justice, chief economist of the Arkansas Farm Bureau.
Analysis of the data shows $300 million has been allocated to pork so far. It was first reported by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit newsroom.
According to the results, JBS USA has won $78 million in pork contracts so far, followed by Goodman Foods and Lakeside Foods. Contracts from the program have gone to pork producers Tyson Foods, which received about $28 million; Cargill got $6 million; and Smithfield got $240,000.
JBS USA got 26% of the allocated funds by leveraging its size and undercutting the competition. The world's largest meat producer bid an average of $2.56 per pound for 5-pound pork loin cuts, while competitors bid an average of $3.80 per pound, the Midwest Center reported.
Last August, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue signed off on the mitigation program, which included direct payments to farmers, as well as $1.2 billion worth of crops grown by farmers that were targeted by trade partners. Of the list of commodities facing retaliatory tariffs, pork was hit hardest, resulting in $558 million of planned pork purchases.
The hope is that taking supply off the market will raise pork prices and be beneficial to the farmer, said Chad Hart, an agricultural economist with Iowa State University.
"It's been hard to tell what this program's done because it's caught up in the wash of African swine fever," Hart said. The disease, which kills almost all pigs infected, has ravaged swine herds in China.
Looking at last summer's market prices, when the program was announced, he said today's prices are stronger.
"This procurement is part of it, but I'd argue a relatively small part of it," Hart said.
Others are concerned with how the money is being used. Nine U.S. senators sent a letter recently to Perdue urging him to stop making trade mitigation purchases from foreign-owned companies out of concern they won't benefit farmers. While the USDA allowed Smithfield, a company owned by the Chinese, to terminate its purchasing contract, the department also awarded a series of contracts to JBS and "has not established sufficient procedures to ensure that taxpayer-funded trade assistance for American farmers is not ultimately benefiting foreign companies," they said in the letter dated May 29.
"There really needs to be an examination of how this program is being administered and who is getting these awards," said Tony Corbo, a senior lobbyist with Food & Water Watch, a corporate watchdog group.
"The thing is, JBS is making money and they are not giving this back to the farmers," he said. "It's outrageous that a company that is not hurting is able to do this.”
JBS also has a murky reputation. Aside from the owners' recent arrests and involvement in a corruption investigation, the company's U.S. beef operations were also fined $50,000 by the USDA for not accurately tracking weights, grades and prices for carcasses.
"We used to argue about big versus small, now we are seeing more of a domestic versus international, and I think that's going to be part of the debate as we move forward," Hart said.
Most of the nation's hog farmers are in the Midwest or along the East Coast. According to Justice, the few dozens left in Arkansas raise under contract for Tyson, Cargill or JBS USA. How the payments benefit farmers is through a sort of "trickle down" effect, Justice said.
The trade mitigation payments help maintain contracts between the growers and companies, known as integrators, he said. In general, the integrators own the animals and feed and bear most of the processing costs that growers would otherwise have to face if they owned the animals.
"I guess growers would benefit indirectly," Justice said about the USDA's trade payments.
Business on 07/12/2019
After six years, countless rallies, fundraisers, letter-writing campaigns, lawsuits and legal actions, visits to the capitol, miles of travel to hearings at agencies and the legislature, we finally got the news that the 6500-head hog confined feeding operation (CAFO) impacting the Buffalo National River would be closing.
Jessie Thomas-Blate | July 11, 2019
This guest blog by Lin Wellford is a part of our series on America’s Most Endangered Rivers®. The Buffalo National River was included in this report in 2017 and 2019.
The news is still sinking in.
People told us it would never happen.
They said once these kinds of facilities are permitted, you can never get rid of them.
But here in Arkansas, the public refused to back down.
People who love the Buffalo River united in opposition to subjugating a national river to the abuse of industrial interests. A global corporation convinced three contract growers to get into large-scale hog raising in a rural area that just happened to be less than seven miles upstream of a major tributary to the Buffalo National River.
Supporters of the CAFO, including the powerful voice of the Farm Bureau, claimed that the owner/operators had done nothing wrong, and that there was no proof that more than two million gallons of hog waste spread onto fields and other areas had anything to do with the rapid explosion of algal growth that was soon noticed by visitors. The CAFO, employing eight to ten locals, was soon threatening the livelihood of nearly one thousand neighbors whose businesses, restaurants and float services depended on the steady flow of visitors to a clean and beautiful Buffalo River. No one wants to paddle or swim in a waterway filled with green gook!
Through working to save the river, we all learned some important lessons.
After the Buffalo National River was first selected for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers® list in 2017, I looked at other waterways on the list and realized how many of them, like the Buffalo, are being damaged by the operations of industries who make money by cutting corners, by paying fines rather than correcting mistakes, or refusing to accept any responsibility. When industries pump their waste into rivers through pipes, it is easy to see where pollution is coming from. Now many industries create more elusive non-point source pollution, which is caused by runoff or infiltration into groundwater that then reaches waterways. Often citizens and non-profits are left to prove the industrial players are the ones causing damage.
But I learned something else, too.
Industries may have money to buy influence, but they can’t buy the votes or the passion of individuals who care about our waterways.
When people unite and speak out, when they begin contacting elected officials, writing letters to editors, and hosting meetings and getting loud about what’s happening, they can make things change. Maybe not all at once or as fast as they would like, but relentless passion and action is a force!
We who love the Buffalo River are grateful to American Rivers. They helped to amplify the plight of our river, and their supporters from across the country got involved by responding to action alerts. Each voice raised added to the volume until a tipping point was reached.
The governor got the message!
Don’t be afraid to speak to your representatives at your state’s legislature.Industries have lobbyists working fulltime to influence lawmakers. However, keep in mind that decent lawmakers will listen to constituents who take the time to reach out to them, to keep them informed, and to build relationships and credibility. We were told by many state representatives and senators that they appreciated that we made the effort to meet with them and tell them the other side of the story.
Most of all, don’t give up hope.
Supporters of the Buffalo National River thank everyone who helped us in any way. We are proof that David can take down Goliath.
Please continue to care for our shared water resources. They are worthy of our efforts, even if it will be our grandchildren who reap the benefits.
Lin Wellford has made her home in the Ozarks for more than 40 years. A retired author/artist, she now devotes her talents to environmental issues and community causes.
Buffalo River Watershed Alliance is a non profit 501(c)(3) organization
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