Is Legislation Surrounding Factory Farms Justified?

January 13, 2020

John Phipps

We received this timely question regarding livestock facilities from Dennis and Terri Barnicle from Missouri:

“I’d like to know if we could get John’s thoughts on the Missouri bill 391 factory farming. This bill takes away local control so a county cannot stop a factory farm in their county!”

Thank you for the question, and send an address for your mug, please. The Missouri bill you refer to is similar to an Illinois statute. While they do restrict county and local government to non-binding advisory recommendations, these laws do other important things. The standardize siting, construction, waste management, and other aspects of Confined Animal Feeding Operations – CAFOs – so each locality doesn’t have to invent them from scratch. They ensure responsible standards and allow farmers a way to diversify. Ag organizations and certainly the livestock industry have long sought ways to counter local resistance to siting such facilities. To be sure, there are significant potential impacts for neighbors: odor, traffic, noise, and other necessary aspects of livestock operations. All of which operators are responsible to mitigate. There is also pure NIMBYism – not in my backyard – that prevails even when such problems are addressed satisfactorily. When local governments consistently say no to reasonable development, economic and political pressure will often shift control to a higher level.

The vast majority of these facilities are contract feeding operations or large dairies, and the parent companies have considerable experience siting, building, and operating to meet strict standards. Manure management plans limit nutrient loading, and contracting companies usually require considerable acreage contiguous to the site to meet those limits. While some potential operators may own a big enough block of land, most rely on some rented acres. This is an important point. If neighbors oppose such a facility, contacting the landowners involved can often be more effective than legal recourse. In fact, even landowners whose land is not directly involved, but who rent substantial acreage to those wanting to build can often discourage construction by threatening to terminate those leases. I’ve seen it happen.

In summary, those laws are here to stay, and they have a role balancing the interests of farmers and their neighbors. But always remember in the end, agriculture is controlled by landowners.