Several aspects of the significant controversy over the hog farm near the Buffalo River disturb us.
One, the foremost, is a potential threat to this Arkansas and national gem – the Buffalo.
Two, the conflict of private entrepreneurship opposed to governmental regulation.
Three, sneakiness by public agencies.
Four, animal abuse and its definitions.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to news over the last year or more, the topic is a large hog farm at Mount Judea in Newton County. It has a capacity of 6,500 hogs – sows and young ‘uns. The farm is near Big Creek which flows into the Buffalo about six miles downstream. Manure from the hogs, and this amounts to much, is channeled into “lagoons” then spread over nearby fields.
You can see the threat to the Buffalo River – hog poop.
This C&H Farm is a project of some long-time and well-regarded Newton County people, the Campbell and Henson families. They are being guided by and contracted with food industry giant Cargill, based in Minnesota.
Naturally, all sorts of government approvals and permits are required for such an undertaking, and this is where much of the fussing is centered.
A coalition of state and federal agencies granted permits without public notice. Some Arkansas legislature members steered a provision into law that did away with public notices for permits for concentrated animal feeding operations like the Mount Judea farm. The Buffalo National River says it did not know of the permit application. Nor did the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and a number of other agencies that should have an interest. Even the head of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) said she did not know about it, that a staff member granted the approval.
The hog farm is in operation know although below that 6,500-pig maximum. Manure is being collected in the lagoons or ponds but not yet spread on nearby land, we are told.
In this type hog farm, the sows are bred and kept in cages, with other terms used for description – gestation boxes is one. Very small areas. This raises the issue of animal abuse. Is it right to treat hogs like this? Is this hog farm any different from a chicken house where the birds never see the outside, never get to move around?
This Newton County farm is the first of its type in Arkansas. People with expertise in the meat industry say it is the coming thing, that more are in the future because they are a more efficient and profitable means of producing meat animals.
One thing we hope is also in the future is development of feasible uses for large amounts of manure. Yes, we know how animal wastes properly handled are great for gardens and crop fields. They sell the stuff in stores – aged and composted cow, horse, sheep, goat, rabbit manure. Think of the potential of tons and tons of hog manure – again, properly treated.
But our thinking keeps returning to a couple of issues raised above.
The Buffalo River should not be compromised. This hog farm is sitting on porous limestone underground called karst.
And how in the world can anyone justify secrecy in the permit process? Certainly there would have been an uproar had the public heard about the proposed hog farm before permits were issued. That does not excuse the bypassing of proper notifications.