Only after the last tree has been cut down.  Only after the last river has been poisoned.  Only after the last fish has been caught.  Only then will you find that money cannot be eaten.

"When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof." - Wingspread Statement of the Precautionary Principle.

North Dakota

Mauvais Coulee - July 20, 2007

My four sisters and I are 4th generation farmers in Towner County, North Dakota. Our paternal grandparents homesteaded this land in 1896; the farm is now in the Botz Family Farm, LLP, and my sisters and I manage it. The land itself is in the “heart of the durum triangle,” abundantly rich with wildlife and fish. We were dismayed to learn in June, 2002 that a second mega hog farm was proposed in the county, less than a mile from the Mauvais Coulee, and approximately 1.7 miles from our farmhouse. Additionally, the coulee feeds directly into the Devils Lake Basin.

We immediately enlisted the help of consultants with GRACE Factory Farms, held public forums, contacted the EPA, wrote series of editorials and letters to government officials and departments, as well as retaining an attorney in July of 2003. The Botz Family Farm LLP was finally able to file a lawsuit May, 2004 with the hope of stopping the operation.

Mauvais CouleeThe attached aerial photos were taken in July of 2005 to show the potential risk to the Devils Lake Basin by locating a factory farm within 8,000 feet of a main tributary. The proposed operation, Hexagon Farms, was in the construction stage when the photos were taken. You can see the water drainage to the Mauvais Coulee from the lagoon dugout area in the first photo. Our Botz Family Farm is just to the right of the pointer entitled Mauvais Coulee. The 2nd aerial clearly shows Devils Lake looming largely in the background with the Mauvais flowing into it.

Devil's LakeI wish this story had a happy ending, but our lawsuit was dismissed in February, 2006. Since 2002, we have been actively working with Dakota Resource Council, Citizens Against Factory Farms, a local group of residents opposed to concentrated animal feeding operations, as well as our local government in an attempt to control more operations. However, local and state public hearings were recently held July 9, 2007, and a third factory farm was approved. Our farm will soon be within a two-and-a-half mile radius of two large-scale hog farms located precariously close to the Mauvais and Calio Coulees with the potential to impact our ground and surface water.

Ginny Botz-Taylor

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Published in Devil's Lake Journal, North Dakota - February 21, 2005

Our Water and CAFOs

Water is our most precious resource and is essential to our existence. According to a recent United Nations Environment Programme report, a substantial fraction of humanity might be living with water shortages within 50 years, as a result of poor water resources management. State and Federal government should be encouraging water resource use that is regenerative and sustainable. How do we balance environmental needs with the elements required to secure a future for farmers? Let’s look at some simple comparisons by Global Resource Action Center for the Environment (GRACE) as we weigh sustainable agriculture with intensive livestock farming methods:

More than half of the U.S. water supply goes to livestock production.

If water used by the meat industry were not subsidized by taxpayers, common hamburger meat would cost $35 a pound.

You need 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat and 2,500 gallons to generate a pound of meat.

Hog factories use millions of gallons of fresh groundwater daily to serve the animals and to save the cost of labor by using the water to clean and flush the barns. Extractive groundwater pumping can also lead to pollution by saltwater intrusion. When massive quantities of freshwater are pumped from underground aquifers faster than they can be recharged, it is possible for the saline water to intrude into the freshwater aquifer to replace the freshwater extracted. This pollutes the fresh groundwater source. Few, if any, large-scale, hog farm permitting processes require that hog factory owners consider and follow proper procedures to ensure that groundwater is recharged. The Price We Pay for Corporate Hogs.  Therefore, common sense tells us that operations must NOT be located in areas of aquifer recharge, or other sensitive areas. FYI: It seems incredulous that the 1984 U.S. Geological Survey was a determining factor for the large-scale hog farm permits in Towner County. Updated maps of our local Red River Basin show substantial flood plain changes since 1984 that should be scrutinized before issuing permits.

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) can also pollute our surface water. When too many animals, antibiotics and chemicals are concentrated in too small a space, it is inviting disaster. Even in a well-designed system, liners leak, according to the Division of Water Quality. Lined lagoons can leak up to a thousand gallons of wastewater per acre per day. In Iowa alone, a 7-acre lagoon may legally leak as much as 16 million gallons of liquefied manure annually. There will always be occasional operational errors and accidents with any system designed to handle millions of gallons of manure and urine. Lagoon leakage, spills and agricultural runoff create both health and financial risk for the community as well as destroying delicate aquatic ecosystems.

As of December 2003, there were 1,700 inactive lagoons in North Carolina waiting cleanup. When the corporation (or grower) decides to abandon a farm, taxpayers will spend around $42,000/lagoon surface acre in cleanup costs, estimates GRACE and Sierra Club. States such as North Carolina, Oklahoma, Iowa and Missouri have legal mechanisms in place to ensure that owners have the funding available for lagoon closure and have legislation that holds producers responsible for closing facilities through one-time fees, annual fees and financial sureties (statement of assets, irrevocable letter of credit, cash or cashier’s check). Producers often tell their contract growers which engineering firm to hire, what type of barns to build, dictates the use of lagoons and land application, etc. so it is reasonable that they should be held equally liable for cleanup cost. Often operators have formed LLCs so the financial impact invariably falls back to the local rural community. Pollution should not be a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder. Case in point: How does one put a price on North Dakota’s “one-of-a-kind” Devils Lake Closed Basin?

Rural Sociologist Doug Constance reminds us that, “It is important that we do not accept the industrialization process of agriculture as something natural, as something inevitable, as something predetermined. It is no such thing. It is a plan – a plan for certain people to benefit and other people to pay.”

Sustainable ways of raising hogs (and livestock) have been practiced for centuries. We must not allow big corporations that operate CAFOs to sweet talk their way into our communities and diminish our quality of life. Industrialized agriculture is NOT the solution…it is time for Rural America to take a stand for sustainability! 

Ginny Botz-Taylor
Tempe, AZ 

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Published in Devil's Lake Journal, January 14, 2005

Attempts to swing the centuries old practice of sustainable agriculture to industrialized confinement operations raise new questions regarding the rights of rural Americans. Corporate investors promise that factory farming stimulates economic growth and creates jobs. The truth is that livestock factories actually displace existing producers, the family farms that kept business dollars within the community disappears, and the promised positive effects on the local economy never materialize.

The bad track record livestock factories leave behind them is clearly portrayed in an address by Missouri attorney general Jay Nixon. Mr. Nixon told of the havoc wreaked in his state by Premium Standard Farms (now Continental Grain). “Where we thought we could give tax breaks and incentives to these companies and they would honor their agreements, we were wrong. Where we thought they would operate under the environmental laws of the state, we were wrong. Where we thought they would bring jobs – they brought workers willing to work for less – and the social challenges that are associated with that situation. Where we thought we could operate without odor regulations, because they would be good neighbors, we were wrong.” ~Missouri Rural Crisis Center, “Hog Wars-The Corporate Grab for Control…”

It is well documented that Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) locate in economically depressed areas where regulation is weak. They are often nicknamed “environmental carpetbaggers” who set up operations in communities less likely to resist their advances. Ironically, the federal (and state) government promotes corporate agriculture and weakens existing legislation, which protects our health and environment. Iowa already has such a law. Similar legislation has been proposed in our own state of ND, as well as Missouri, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. Jimmy Carter once stated, “We must adjust to changing times and still hold to unchanging principles.”  How can rural Americans protect their rights against the threats to our “right to farm,” our health, our environment? And what are our rights?

Rural folks must play an active role to preserve the future of their communities. Ramsey and Towner Counties are good examples of doing just that. Ramsey County took meticulous steps to produce and approve a strong ordinance regarding confined animal feeding operations last year. Especially in an area such as Devils Lake, where tourism is the mainstay of the economy, risks to the environment are very real and must be addressed; yet enforcing new zoning can be complicated as well as costly for the county. Assessing and rolling those potential risk costs onto the operator AND producer in the form of an “upfront” bond must be a priority. (Typically, the producer is “off the hook” and the operator bears the cost of all risks). Towner County extended their moratorium on CAFOs as their Zoning Board develops a similar plan. Several townships within Towner County have compatible zoning, which has been recently strengthened because of the potential risk already permitted CAFOs bring to ground and surface water as well as their close proximity to neighbors.

The federal government sets the standard to protect our constitutional rights. Those rights not granted by the Constitution are then given to the states. The lower level of county government has the right to choose standards that exceed those of the state; the township then can supercede the county. It is my understanding that if township regulations are written based on health and safety concerns of the area, they will be upheld in a court of law if challenged. The responsibility and right to create the correct standard is rightly placed on the shoulders of the local rural community.

Often, CAFOs take advantage of the “grandfather clause” where regulation is weak. Noted agricultural economist John Ikerd explains the “grandfather clause” in the following way: “In families, grandfathers aren’t necessarily required to change their ways, even if the rest of the family chooses some higher standard of conduct. But, the rest of the family certainly doesn’t have to limit itself to grandfather’s level of behavior. Equally important, if grandfather starts misbehaving, by violating his earlier standards of conduct, the family has no obligation to accept his new behavior, just because his old behavior was grandfathered in. For example, if grandfather starts mistreating the grandkids, he will quickly lose his honored status, even if he’s doing nothing that violates state or federal laws.”

Economist Dr. William J. Weida of GRACE states that the “problems and potential solutions for rural areas must be viewed in a long-term manner. There are, unfortunately, no short-term solutions for the economic problems that affect most rural areas. But there are many reasons that short-term fixes should be avoided. Rural areas have extremely limited resources and they cannot afford to repair the problems caused by short-term thinking. Those communities that fall into the short-term trap find that when they have created a problem they cannot afford to fix – pollution from an Intensive Livestock Operation (ILO), for example – their only recourse is to let in more polluting activities since no other enterprises will consider locating in their area. The only way to avoid this situation is not to get in it in the first place.”

I have confidence that rural communities will continue to strengthen and use our “God given rights” to preserve and ensure a “long-term” quality of life for children, future generations, and ourselves. 

Ginny Botz-Taylor
Tempe, AZ

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Published in the Devil's Lake Journal, North Dakota, January 7, 2005.

Many thoughts surface as industrial agriculture attempts its sweep into NE North Dakota. We are told we need to accept large-scale animal feeding operations as an economic necessity. We are told we have “closed minds” and labeled naive if we don’t embrace these operations in our communities. CAFOs are supposedly the answer for the local job market, tax dollars, and will keep our communities thriving, our children from moving away.

The fact of the matter is that most, smaller, non-confinement operations are more efficient than larger confinement operations. Problems are unavoidable when too many animals and waste are confined in too little space. Also statistics show that as factory farming increases, small farmers disappear. Fewer farm families mean fewer people to shop at the local supermarkets, and participate in community affairs. Statistics also show the value of homes are reduced, quality of life diminished, and health can be at risk. Employment at the local CAFO is NOT the dream of our children…they still move away without other viable options.

Food for thought:

If factory farming is such an economic boost, why have South Carolina all but prohibited hog confinements to protect its economy?

Chickasaw County, Iowa has 13,000 residents and only 39 farmers who raise 270,000 pigs industrially each year. Given this structure, who represents the special interest and who represents the public interest?

Factory farming doesn’t harm the environment? Why then, has DeCoster’s hog facilities in the state of Iowa been sued five times because of chronic environmental compliance problems? 

North Carolina, a state facing a $200 million cost to clean up abandoned hog waste lagoons, would also give a different answer as would the many states whose waters have been contaminated by CAFO spills and seepage.

Did you know that the total loss in tax revenue to Hancock County, Iowa, its schools and community college was estimated at $60,000 in 2003? At least $1.67 million in assessed property value (as of June 2, 2003) was lost. Those exemptions went to the top 12 CAFO producers, who received $1.13 million in exemptions, or 67.5% of the county total.

Annual estimated costs of a 20,000 head feedlot on local roadways were $6,447 per mile due to increased truck traffic.

Hog CAFOs decreased value of Iowan homes in a half-mile radius by 40%, one-mile by 30%, etc.

Experience in other states indicate that factory farms reduce jobs in the overall community, total tax revenues decline, and people move away.

To quote John Ikerd, noted Agricultural Economist: “Hope for the future is in 'farming,’ not [commercial hog] agribusiness. Certainly commercial hog producers have a right to pursue their economic self-interest in a free enterprise economy. But, they don’t have a right to endanger the public health nor the general quality of community life. Private property rights have never included the right to benefit at your neighbor’s expense. The right to farm has never included the right to operate an animal feeding factory."

He also states: “There is hope for the future of farming. Hope does not mean believing that things are going well for farmers. But rather hope means that farmers have the ability to work for success in spite of growing difficulties. Human life depends on farming, and life is simply too precious to live without hope.” 

Ginny Botz-Taylor
Tempe, AZ 

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BIA Betrayal
July 18, 2002

In the article below I outlined the victory the Tribe and the people had won in the court of appeals. The pig factory lease was voided by a unanimous Court and we were very confident the ruling would be upheld when Bell Farms asked for an 'en banc' hearing from the whole Appeals Court as a preliminary to an appeal to the Supreme Court.

Remember there are three parties on the winning side, the BIA, the Citizen and Environmental groups, and the Tribe. Also remember that shortly after the ruling favoring the Tribe, Senator Conrad of North Dakota contacted BIA boss Neal McCaleb and told him a former Governor of North Dakota and others had $100,000,000 (one hundred million dollars!) at stake and threatened to take "legislative action" to force a resolution, among other things. Coming from a Senator with budget control over the BIA and Tribes this was a direct attempt to intimidate and coerce them.

According to the email we discovered, the top aides of Conrad and McCaleb were discussing options to force the pig factory on the Tribe despite the ruling by the Court and the will of the Lakota people. The very next week McCaleb attempted to "mediate" the issue at an NCAI meeting in North Dakota that Tribal officials attended. To the gratitude of the people the Chairman and the Council reaffirmed their opposition to the pig factory to McCaleb and Chairman Kindle reiterated it in a public statement.

The people do not want the filthy pig factory on the homelands! The people have voted against it, the Council has condemned it and is fighting it in court, the BIA voided the inadequate lease and the court upheld it. What is there that Neal McCaleb can not understand?

As expected, Bell Farms filed a petition asking for a rehearing by the entire Court. In return each of winning parties filed a rebuttal brief to explain why the rehearing should be denied and the ruling stand.

An affirmative ruling would mean the lease was legally voided and the Tribes sovereign rights to regulate businesses on Reservation and to protect the land and resources would be restored. It will also be an important rebuke to district court Judge Kornman for his unwarranted intrusion in Tribal affairs.

You can imagine my outrage when I saw the brief from the BIA and saw they had betrayed the Tribe, Citizens and the Lakota people to agree with Bell Farms that there should be a rehearing! They say they are still in favor of the ruling but want some underlying issues resolved by the entire Court.

Here is what they say: "We believe that this Court should grant panel rehearing and then reverse the district court on the merits of the case".

The BIA is supposed to be protecting the interests and the assets of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe but this betrayal proves who they really serve. If the BIA and the pig factory succeed in their request for a rehearing the existing pig factories will continue to spew their filth on the land, making money for Bell and Hormel but leaving only waste for the people, and the treacherous BIA will have more time to work against our people on behalf of the powerful politicians who are attempting to steal Sicangu water and land. So even though they try to cover their betrayal in legal lies it is very easy to see that what they say is not their true intent.

In this fight the Tribe and citizens are facing some very powerful interests. First there is Bell Farms, a rich hog farm operator based in North Dakota that has CFO's (pig factories) in several states, in partnership with them is Sun Prairie owned by Bell and his sons, Mountain Prairie owned by Hormel Foods 2/3rds and Bell 1/3, and interested parties include officers of Hormel, US Bancorp and other investors we're not sure of such as ex-Govenor Sinner who was mentioned by the Conrad email. Hormel Foods is a multinational company with many prominent politicians on its board such as John Block the former Secretary of Agriculture and E. Peter Gillette, former president of Piper Jaffery U.S. Bancorp.

These are the kinds of people who can pick up a phone and get a Senator to use his power to to force a stinking pig factory on our people. And these are the kind of people who can get the BIA, the legal protector of Tribal Trust Assets, to use an underhanded and unethical legal subterfuge to strip the legal victory from our homelands.

In the end I still believe we will prevail in Court, if not we will find another way to close it down and clean it up.

The BIA has always operated against our interests, usually they get away with their underhanded acts and betrayals of their trust responsibilities. This time we have seen them sneaking through the grass and we know their intention is to join our enemies. The BIA has done some damage with their two faced betrayal and we must plan to overcome them, but for now I'm sending you this update to let you know that now we're fighting two hogs, the BIA has joined the pigs!

Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2002 12:24 PM
Subject: Pig Fight Update

Ah-Ho Relations,

A few days ago the Rosebud people won an appeal on their lawsuit against the Bell Farms pig factory. While the ruling is a significant victory for those of us who want to close the place down it by no means solved our problem, in fact it brought the issue back to the Tribe for some very important decisions. The ruling will not take affect for forty-five days even if they do not appeal, but we must assume they will appeal to the republican Supreme Court. In the meantime two enormous pig factories with non-working waste disposals are still spewing their toxic waste on the homelands and sending their antibiotic laden product to feed everyone. Last summer the reservation had an amazing plague of flies swarming in a way the people had never seen before, it was so bad it made people stay inside. Then this winter we had a very bad epidemic of influenza that completely over-taxed the health system, babies were in such danger they quarantined their wards, the emergency room stayed full for two months and elders in beds were lining the hallways. People were calling it the "pig flu" but who can prove either of these bad things were actually caused by the pig factory?

Since Bell farms won an injunction against the Tribe that allowed them to build their second factory, they began a public relations effort in an attempt to gain approval for their plans. They hired a "consultant" named Trent Loos who has been constantly working the media on their behalf. His main theme is that those opposed to the factory are supported and directed by PETA and other "radical environmentalists" like Robert Kennedy who want to destroy the family farm and force all Americans to be vegetarians! They also sponsor programs on the local Catholic radio station, which is the local station for the rez. They are also targeting schools with propaganda disguised as information and they had a pork sandwich stand at the annual powwow and fair that handed out heart attacks and lies. These people see their dreams of easy riches at the expense of our people slipping away and they intend to fight hard to maintain their hold on the land. In addition to the p.r. campaign they have begun to replace the arrogance they treated the Tribal Government with last year with an attempt to influence them with secret meetings and offers to tribal officials and tribal attorneys. They have appeared uninvited and unannounced at unrelated out of state meetings of Tribal officials, to their credit Tribal officers and Council members have not responded favorably to them. I don't know about the tribal attorneys however, as to what offers they are entertaining or discussions they have had with Bell Farms, and that worries me. The ruling hurt and angered some powerful politicians and one of the powerful 'boss hogs' of the pig factory (Contained Feeding Operations) movement that is taking over American agriculture. Wounded hogs are dangerous and this one is protecting twenty-four barns full of shit and money. Bell Farms, their Banks, and the politicians they own, will stop at nothing to defeat those of us who stand up for this land and the Constitutional rights of the Sicangu people to govern their homelands. This struggle is far from over.

After the ruling I was invited to attend a Tribal Council meeting called to discuss the situation, since this was the first meeting specifically on the factory since last falls election I was curious about the make up of the new Council and their positions on the ruling. I am gratified to report that the Council majority is still strong against the pig project and several have instruction to oppose it from their communities. At the same time the Council is faced with some very hard legal and economic problems that will be hard to resolve without further litigation and possible monetary losses. As is so often the case in Indian Country, this Council will be asked to clean up the mistakes of the past administration, and they are huge. First is the legal problem that must be resolved, the ruling upheld the BIA decision to void the lease because of a lack of an EIS but the subsequent injunction in favor of Bell farms allowed them to build the two large sites now in operation. These are an established fact and 25% owned by the Tribe, although the lease was cancelled they still have a contract and various permits with the Tribe they will contend these give them the option of continuing operations while having an EIS done. The BIA says they will not permit a new lease unless it has an EIS, but I contended in the meeting that there can be no EIS of the land with an entire pig factory already situated on top if it. In the event we win our legal argument and the Council decides the factory must be closed, who pays for cleaning it up and will the Tribe be stuck for at least 25% or even the whole bill? What is the BIA responsibility since they allowed the pig factory to be built without an EIS in the first place and most important what is Bell Farms liability in the cleanup? During the meeting the Council took some important actions even though they must wait for a final legal disposition. They have asked our citizens groups to help them bring in an environmental scientist to asses the waste disposal operation and they voted to seek the legal council of the lawyers that represented us in the lawsuit and if necessary replace their representation. These are important first steps and others are planned for the future in order to bring this problem under control. I am now confident that the Tribal Council is working to fulfill the wishes of their people and get rid of the pig factory but their success is still in doubt as long as Bell can enlist the courts to help them win.

On the grass roots level the ruling prompted us to get active once again after a winter of waiting for the ruling and inactivity brought on by the injunction, which included the citizens groups also. Our campaign is different than that of Bell Farms, we have no money for media or consultants but we know our own people in a way Bell Farms can't compete with, the best thing is we know our people are smart enough to make good decisions when we give them the information that was denied them in the beginning. Deeply imbedded within our culture is a love and concern for this land that can be depended on to make good, earth-friendly decisions when asked to by their leaders. Our job has been to get the facts on factory farming and its dangers and put them before the Rosebud people, we have done that and in a referendum vote the people rejected the pig factory, now our job is one of helping the Tribe in their effort to clean up the mess. We are providing them with contacts with legal and environmental expertise and as legal interveners citizens can monitor the Courts, the Tribe has formally requested our assistance and I believe we're all on the same path. I have heard there may be a petition circulated urging the Tribe to close down the factory and there has been talk of rallies and community meeting by grassroots people to keep up the pressure on Bell Farms, I'll let you know of any further activities that may come up. It may be a hot summer on the pig front after all, and I expect a lot more action from both sides.

One of the things that weigh on my mind is the aftermath of our victory should we win... What responsibility do we activists and environmentalists have for the consequences of our actions? The Tribe will be left with big changes in in their plans for economic development when a multi-million dollar project and its spin-off industries are shut down permanently. They will be left with an tremendous infrastructure of water lines, pumping stations and other utilities stretching for miles across the empty prairie, fully one half or more of the Tribes portion of the giant "Mni Wiconi" federal water project was dedicated to what was to be the world largest pig factory! The lines are in and the project is slated for completion this year, our victory makes the entire thing useless unless we can come up with something to replace it. Millions of gallons of Missouri river water per year will be left idle by the failure of the project and several dozen much needed jobs will be lost by the closure of the factory. What a wonderful thing it would be if we could think of and offer a solution. Only then can we turn our court victory into a real victory for the people and our Mother Earth.

Carter Camp

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Smelling Opportunity: Cando Farms Represent New Era for N.D. Hog Industry
By Mike Nowatzki  
The Forum
July 12, 2003
Cando, N.D.

On a sunny, windy November afternoon, Bruce Gibbens trudges down a muddy road toward one of his concrete-and-steel hog barns.

Clean, crisp air whips across flat fields and ditches lined with melting snow. A crane swings a floor slat into place as the last of 10 barns goes up at Dakota Country Swine, Gibbens’ site eight miles east and one mile north of Cando.

About 100 feet from a barn full of some 2,000 hogs, the stink of manure sets in. Inside the barn’s closet-sized shower area, where workers scrub in and out to avoid spreading disease between the barns, the ammonia-tinged odor pierces the nostrils.

For Gibbens and his family, it’s the odor of opportunity. He owns the operation with his wife, Lisa, his sister, Judy Gibbens, and her family.

With 10 barns housing up to 2,090 hogs each, it is easily the largest hog operation in North Dakota. The next biggest is EnviroPork, a 5,000-sow operation along U.S. Highway 2 near Larimore.

Next spring, construction will begin on a second 20,900-head hog operation 10 miles southeast of Cando.

Known as Hexagon Farm because of the layout of the barns, it will be owned by Gibbens’ cousin, Cando Mayor Jim Gibbens, his wife, Linda, and their six children.

Jim Gibbens said the barns will not only benefit his family, but the entire Cando area.

“Everybody’s packing up and moving to Fargo, and the ones that don’t stop there move on to Minneapolis or Denver,” he said. “We’d like to provide some opportunity for the young people here.”

The farms represent a new era of pork production in North Dakota -- something state Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson calls a “boilerplate plan” for raising hogs.

The plan comes from Manitoba-based Elite Swine Inc. The company wants to expand hog production in northern North Dakota to feed a 4-year-old slaughter plant in Brandon, Man., owned by its parent company, Maple Leaf Foods.

Under its contract with the Gibbenses, Elite Swine rents space in the barns and supplies the pigs and feed. The Gibbenses must provide the labor, utilities and manure management.

“It’s kind of like a hotel,” Jim Gibbens said. “It’s their pigs, they come down to stay here for the feeding period, but we run it.”

Because the setup is new to North Dakota, Elite Swine had the attorney general’s office review the contract to make sure it didn’t conflict with a state law that bans corporations from investing in livestock operations.

As the Gibbenses point out, these are still family owned operations. And confinement barns aren’t new to North Dakota.

What is new is the sheer size of the operations.

To put it into perspective, consider this: The Cloverdale Growers Alliance, a group of 28 pork producers scattered across North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, raises 70,000 hogs a year for the Cloverdale Meats slaughter plant in Minot. Bruce Gibbens’ 10 barns are emptied and restocked three times a year, for a total annual production of 60,400 hogs.

It’s a concentration of animals that concerns people like Roger Copeland, a retired farmer and founder of the activist group Citizens Against Factory Farming. He lives about 3 miles from the Hexagon Farm site.

Copeland worries manure runoff will seep into the groundwater supply or kill fish in the creek that flows by his farm. He’ll have to install air conditioning because the odor will be too strong to leave his windows open in the summer.

“Cattle are a whole different story,” said Copeland, who at one time raised 120 beef cows. “It’s the lagoons and confining of all this stuff that makes it smell so bad.”

“If they were small farms, I don’t think you’d have the objections,” he said.


Finding a partner

The Gibbenses are fourth-generation farmers in Towner County.

Their great-grandfather homesteaded near Cando 120 years ago. Bruce and Jim are diversified grain, bean and potato growers.

Now, they’re also part of Elite Swine’s plans to expand hog production into northern North Dakota.

Maple Leaf Foods, Canada’s largest commercial pork producer, with more than 122,000 sows, plans to expand its Brandon packing plant.

The plant currently kills about 45,000 hogs per week but has the capacity to kill 108,000 per week. Pending a wastewater permit, Maple Leaf Foods plans to start a second shift in 2005 to kill 90,000 hogs per week, said spokeswoman Linda Kuhn.“North Dakota is strategically placed to capture some of that capacity,” said Craig Jarolimek, a Forest River, N.D., farmer and manager of market development for Elite Swine.

Dakota Country Swine and Hexagon Farm each represent about a $4 million investment. The Gibbenses had to put 10 percent to 20 percent down, Jim Gibbens said, declining to go into further detail.

A main selling point for Elite Swine is the long-term contract that farmers won’t find in most livestock sectors, Jarolimek said. The Gibbenses’ contract requires Elite Swine to lease space in their barns for eight years.

“The reality of life is you will not get financing if you do not have a stabilization of income,” Jarolimek said.

Elite Swine’s confinement-barn style of raising hogs leaves little to chance.

Computers help workers keep track of how much feed the hogs are eating. Wall-mounted exhaust fans help to control the climate. Manure falls through the floor slats into 2-foot-deep manure pits directly below the barns before being flushed to a nearby lagoon.

Elite Swine knows exactly what’s going in and coming out of every barn. It offers incentive payments to the farmer based on feed efficiency and low death loss.

“We have a vested interest in making sure the pigs are doing well,” Jim Gibbens said.

Eventually, the Gibbenses would like to create a “complete loop” in Towner County by adding a sow barn and nursery barns to supply the finishing barns. Several sites are being considered for a sow barn, Jim Gibbens said.

For now, though, they’ll have to wait until Towner County lifts a six-month moratorium on new livestock operations. The county is currently writing a new feedlot ordinance.

“I don’t really think this study period or research period is bad,” Bruce Gibbens said. “What they want to do is get zoning in place, and that’s a good idea.”

Elite Swine was involved in similar proposals this fall for hog barns in Cavalier County near Olga, N.D., and across the U.S.-Canadian border from Walhalla, N.D.

Both projects faced ardent public opposition, especially from people living around the tourism-rich Pembina Gorge. Investors backed out of the one near Langdon in early November. Elite Swine withdrew its permit application for the proposed site near Walhalla on Nov. 6, although the company hinted it may resubmit the application in the spring.

Like people in Walhalla, Copeland and other opponents in the Cando area worry odor and pollution from the hog barns could spoil the local tourism industry, which thrives on fishing and duck hunting.

“Can you imagine people coming here and setting up their decoys, and that smell comes rolling in when the wind shifts?” Copeland said. “They’re not going to be coming back again.”

Copeland said the Gibbenses’ hog barns slipped beneath the public radar.

“Unfortunately, these two (sites) that are in were already in before we were organized,” he said.

But Bruce Gibbens said a 30-day comment period and a public hearing in Cando provided ample opportunity for public input.

Besides, the pork industry creates a market for North Dakota grain and jobs that will help keep the area’s young people around, Gibbens said.

“We were the original homesteading family in Towner County,” he said. “It’s not like we’re going to destroy the land, despite what you may have heard. We want to pass this on to our children.”


Producers disappear

The Gibbenses’ operations are a shot in the arm to a dwindling sector of livestock production in North Dakota.

The number of hog operations in the state has fallen steadily the past five years, from 850 in 1998 to 700 in 2000 to 600 last year.

At the same time, the state’s hogs and pigs inventory has dropped 22 percent, from 200,000 in 1998 to 154,000 last year.

Charlotte Meier, state executive of the North Dakota Pork Producers Council, blames the losses in part on a devastating market drop in 1998-99, when hog prices plummeted to 8 cents a pound, their lowest level since the Depression.

Meier and her husband raised hogs in Hettinger County for 27 years before quitting a couple of years ago because of his health. They belonged to a marketing group of 60 producers who pooled their hogs to negotiate a better price at the packing plant.

“Now there’s probably 10, 15 still in the business,” she said.

Long-term factors have also contributed to the decline.

Pork production continues to shift toward confinement barns, as more producers prefer to fatten young pigs to slaughter weight rather than keep sows on the farm to give birth to piglets and raise them from farrow to finish.

But sources of weaner pigs are hard to come by in North Dakota, Meier said.

Farmers also may be reluctant to invest in hogs in North Dakota because the state has only one pork packing plant, Cloverdale Meats in Minot.

“Marketing the animals is probably the biggest holdback of investment, because they have to go such a distance to get to a market,” Meier said.

Cloverdale Meats already operates at near capacity, processing about 164,000 hogs every year, manager Neal Feist said. The plant gets the majority of its hogs from Canada and the Cloverdale Growers Alliance.

The state’s anti-corporate farming law has kept a lot of investment out of the state, Feist said, adding, “I’m not saying it’s good or bad.”

In the past, the state’s efforts in regard to swine have been in strengthening the Cloverdale Growers Alliance, said Johnson, the state ag commissioner. These are smaller, more dispersed and less capital-intensive facilities, he said.

“And, as a result, they’ve been much more successful in getting community support for siting facilities,” he said.

The Cloverdale Growers Alliance is currently in the discussion phases of trying to buy some of Elite Swine’s finished hogs from the Cando farms, Dukart said.

Most alliance members are independent, farrow-to-finish operators. Still, they generally share the same producer mentality as the Gibbenses, Dukart said.

“I don’t think it makes a lot of difference if there’s 2,000 pigs on a site or if there’s 20,000 pigs on a site,” he said. “If the husbandry and the environmental stewardship are top quality, then the impact to the land and community and the lifestyles will be very minimal. But the financial impact is very noticeable to the community.”

According to Jarolimek, the Gibbenses’ operations each will require five workers at an annual payroll of $145,000. The barns also create spinoff jobs and business for truck drivers and electricians, among others, Bruce Gibbens said.

Being free of the devastating hog disease pseudorabies makes North Dakota one of a handful of states that’s allowed to export hogs to Canada, said Jarolimek, a former president of the National Pork Producers Council.

The state also has plenty of available land and an ample supply of wheat, barley, corn, soybeans and other pig feed, he said.

“It’s really the most basic form of turning corn and barley and soybeans into something of higher value, and we can do it right here in North Dakota,” said Lance Gaebe, agricultural policy advisor to Gov. John Hoeven.

The Gibbenses’ hog operations will each consume about 600,000 bushels of feed per year.

Bruce Gibbens said he’s already contracted to sell 80,000 bushels of corn to Landmark Feeds Inc. in Landmark, Man., a member of Maple Leaf Foods that supplies feed to Elite Swine. He said Cando’s position between Canadian buyers and the primary corn and soybean markets in southwest Minnesota and Iowa earned him a 15- to 20-cent premium on the corn, due to reduced shipping costs.

“We have an alternative source now to sell our feed, and we think that’s good,” he said.


Protection in place

Copeland isn’t convinced it’s necessarily good for Cando.

“That’s the big problem about these places,” he said. “They don’t care about the people next to them.”

However, the North Dakota Department of Health has adequate laws in place to protect residents living near large livestock operations, including those in the Cando area, said Dave Glatt, chief of the department’s environmental health section.

“I think some people feel there’s been minimal oversight by the department, when in reality there’s been a lot of oversight by the department that addresses a lot of the environmental issues,” he said.

As the delegated authority for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the department is rewriting its rules for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to comply with new EPA regulations released last February.

Starting Jan. 1, department officials will travel the state seeking public comment on the rule changes. Glatt hopes to have the new rules in place by spring.

A major point of emphasis in the new federal rules is that all CAFOs must implement a nutrient management plan. Hog manure contains high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus which, while excellent for fertilizing crops, also can create algae blooms and E.coli danger if it flows into surface water or groundwater.

The production area must also be designed to contain all of the operation’s manure -- plus the runoff -- from a 25-year, 24-hour rainfall event.

Dakota Country Swine’s lagoon was built better than that, Jarolimek said. The lagoon has a capacity of 17.3 million gallons to handle the 12 million gallons of manure that will be produced at the site annually, plus a 2-foot-high earthen barrier, or “freeboard,” to handle a 100-year rainfall event.When it comes to manure management, North Dakota is a step ahead of the EPA, said Dennis Fewless, director of the state Health Department’s division of water quality.

“We think we’re going to meet or exceed all the criteria of the federal rules,” he said.

For the past three of four years, the department has phased in requirements that proposers of large livestock operations -- 1,000 or more cattle, 2,500 or more hogs -- must submit nutrient management plans, conduct soil tests and apply only as much manure fertilizer as their crops will use.

The regulations were prompted in part by horror stories from hog farms in North Carolina and other East Coast states during the 1990s, Fewless said. Huge lagoons leaked tons of manure through shoddy walls, and barren fields were saturated with waste.

“They weren’t utilizing it for crops,” he said. “It was just disposal.”

In Gibbens’ case, the Health Department went through its regular permitting process, conducting a preliminary site assessment, approving the building design and soliciting public comment.

Officials were comfortable with how the design addressed manure storage and application, Glatt said.

Manure from Gibbens’ hogs will be flushed out from 2-foot-deep concrete pits below the barns to a 14-foot-deep clay lagoon.

State law permits manure to leak through the clay lining at a rate of 1/16th of an inch per day. That’s less stringent than Minnesota, which allows only 1/56th of an inch, but stricter than Nebraska, which tolerates ¼-inch of leakage daily.

By requiring the lagoon liner to be 2 feet thick, with the clay compacted at 6-inch intervals, the Health Department finds leakage rates are usually less than 1/16th of an inch, Glatt said.

“The design is, we feel, pretty protective of groundwater,” he said.

Once a year, the manure will be pumped from the lagoon and spread on surrounding farmland at a rate of 6,000 to 8,000 gallons per acre, or roughly the equivalent of a ¼-inch of rain, Jarolimek said.

Some opponents of the operations have expressed concern that Jim Gibbens’ site in Coolin Township is 8,000 feet from the Mauvais Creek, which eventually flows into Devils Lake. However, Glatt said the impact on water quality “would seem to be minimal or negligible if they follow the nutrient management plan.”

“Obviously, as they operate it, we’ll be keeping an eye on them,” he said.

The Health Department inspects about 50 large livestock operations annually, Fewless said. That number will increase with the new regulations, although Fewless said he doesn’t know by how much.

To manage the increased inspections, the department will likely add staff members or put less emphasis on other duties, Fewless said.

“This is definitely a high priority,” he said.

It also will continue to be a high-emotion issue in Cando.

Copeland said the Gibbenses political positions -- Jim Gibbens is mayor, Bruce Gibbens is the city attorney and his wife, Lisa, is the Towner County state’s attorney -- have forced Cando residents to choose sides over the hog operations.

“It really has divided the community,” he said.

But Jim Gibbens said he looks around Cando and sees a struggling Main Street and a high school with 325 students, compared to 610 when he graduated in 1967. He said he sees hogs as an opportunity, but one that comes with responsibility.

“It would be just plain ludicrous to think we’re going to screw this deal up,” he said.

“We’re not going to pollute the environment. We’re not going to pollute the water. It’s just crazy.”

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NOTE: This letter went out as a "Letter to the Editor" to all North Dakota newspapers with an e-mail address; plus radio and television stations. This is an extremely crucial situation for North Dakota. Please give it your utmost attention. Thank you!


If you are a duck hunter, fisherman, swimmer, hiker, bird watcher; independent farmer, or just plain love what North Dakota stands for - you need to get a copy of the draft of "North Dakota Technical Standards for Animal Feeding Operations" available from the ND Department of Health.  I  firmly believe North Dakota needs to take a giant initiative in banning all large and medium concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), and animal feeding operations (AFOs).

North Dakota could and should set a precedent for other states to follow, rather than working to adapting the state's standards for this industry. There are numerous states, including Illinois, Iowa, and North Carolina, and many others, who have allowed CAFOs to operate in their states and are suffering the consequences now. Are we wise enough to learn from history; or are we destined to repeat other's mistakes? I sincerely hope we will choose to learn from history.

North Dakota has in place, the anti-corporation farming law. According to the 1999 EPA Ruling, all CAFOs must have both the operator and the involved corporation's names on the permit. The reasoning behind this EPA ruling was the potential and enormous clean up costs of the pollutants from this industry. It would seem this ruling alone would deter North Dakota from implementing any standards for CAFOs and AFOs in lieu of the anti-corporation farming law.

North Dakota needs to strengthen, not weaken, its laws against industrialized farming. The state of North Dakota, North Dakota counties and townships need to put extremely stringent laws into place. This would reinforce the historical standards supporting the independent farmer with his responsible stewardship of land and livestock.

Rather than following other states, and the industry's propaganda, we need to look long and hard at the cause and long-term effect on North Dakota's water and air quality, lifestyle and the tourism business. North Dakota residents need to get involved before it's too late!

A permanent moratorium for CAFOs and AFOs is crucial to the future of North Dakota.

Merry Botz-Wasoski
North Dakota Property Owner
PO Box 3700
Show Low, AZ 85902
Telephone: 928-587-1986

The 1999 EPA Ruling is at for your perusal.

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Residents Debate Hogs, Tourism
The Forum
December 8, 2003

WALHALLA, N.D. -- Mayor Pat Hardy’s face lights up as he boasts about how someone can hop into a canoe just south of the Canadian border and hop out in Walhalla’s Riverside Park.

Northwest of this city of 1,057, the Pembina River meanders through 12,500 acres of pristine woodlands where the boreal and eastern deciduous forests converge.

Christened the “Valley of the Gods” by Norwegian settlers, and officially known as the Pembina Gorge, it’s an area renowned for excellent snowmobiling, skiing, hiking, hunting and birdwatching.

For more than a decade, Walhalla leaders have focused on building a tourism industry around the gorge.

“Farming is our No. 1 industry,” says Hardy, leaning forward in his manager’s chair at Citizens State Bank Midwest. “We have the ethanol plant, and that’s a wonderful employer. But we’re trying to diversify our economy.”

So, when Manitoba-based Elite Swine Inc. proposed a 6,000-head hog operation on farmer Ken Schellenberg’s land, just north of the gorge on the Canadian side of the border, Walhalla responded with thundering opposition.

Elite Swine withdrew its permit application at a meeting last month in Morden, Man., but a company representative hinted the project isn’t dead.

“You got the implication that they’re going to resubmit,” says Hardy, who attended the Nov. 6 meeting. “We’re not going to find out two weeks before the meeting this time.”

In fact, government leaders and residents in Pembina and Cavalier counties are trying to educate themselves on the impacts of confinement-style hog operations, and whether they can coexist with tourism.

“I think there can be potential in them,” says Kathy Stremick, director of the Walhalla Economic Development Office. “But I think there’s also a place for them.”

Behind the wheel of her four-wheel-drive minivan, Melanie Thornberg zips through the Pembina Gorge on gravel roads patched with mud and melting ice.

She maintains a constant speed. There are few places to turn around, and stopping would almost surely mean getting stuck.

But, someday, the executive director of the Walhalla Area Chamber of Commerce hopes the trails will include a series of stopping points where visitors can observe the flora and fauna of the gorge.

Thornberg is working with the Turtle Mountain Tourism Association to develop a “Heart of North America” loop across northeastern North Dakota. It’s all part of a concept by Ted Eubanks of Austin, Texas, to connect the entire Great Plains with community-based nature trails.

“We’re trying to create a world-class nature tourism destination in the Rendezvous Region,” Thornberg says, referring to the 120-mile corridor created in the early 1990s by the cities of Pembina, Walhalla, Cavalier and Langdon.

However, that vision is less likely to be fulfilled if large-scale hog barns infiltrate the area, she says.

“People really come to pristine wilderness areas,” she says. “They had to fight for the Boundary Waters. Well, this area is worth fighting for, too.”

The reasons behind opposition to Elite Swine’s site near the gorge varied, but air and water quality were common threads.

Lawrence Fulsaas, who lives with his 91-year-old mother 1 mile southeast of the Schellenberg site, says he worries about his well water being polluted. He says he would have been fine with a smaller operation.

“But when they come up to 2,000, that’s a little bit much,” he says.

Judith and Richard Johnson have owned and operated Frost Fire Ski Area west of Walhalla for 28 years. Nestled on a hillside in the Pembina Gorge, the resort draws thousands of skiers every winter and packs its summer theater from July 1 to mid-August.

“Our business is the outdoors, winter and summer, so naturally we’re concerned about anything that would affect us in that manner,” Judith says.

North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven also opposed the site, writing in a letter to Manitoba Premier Gary Doer that it “has the real potential to damage local efforts to enhance nature tourism to the area.”

“With the project so close to the international border, a violation of North Dakota environmental regulations could occur and our state regulatory officials would be powerless to order operating changes,” Hoeven wrote.

Another Elite Swine-backed project, along State Highway 5 near Olga, N.D., was scrapped after the investor pulled out because of fierce local opposition.

Cyndy Sitar, whose rustic Moose Creek Lodge offers a stunning vista of a coolie only a mile and a half southwest of the proposed hog site, was among the most vocal opponents. South Olga Township has since adopted a strict feedlot ordinance.

“I don’t think that tourism and pigs mix,” she says.

Craig Jarolimek, manager of market development for Elite Swine, has faced similar fears in Cando, N.D., where the company is helping local farmers set up two 20,000-head hog finishing sites. Some residents raised concerns about the impact on the area’s popular duck and goose hunting.

Jarolimek answers the concerns by citing new odor-controlling technologies. He points out that the manure is injected into the soil, greatly reducing the chances of runoff. He refers to state Health Department rules designed to safeguard streams and water quality.

“We all want to protect the environment of North Dakota,” says Jarolimek, a Forest River, N.D., farmer and former president of the National Pork Producers Council. “People and hog barns can exist. Tourism and hog barns can exist.”

David Vogel oversees 39 counties as southern regional manager for tourism in Minnesota, a state that had nearly 6 million hogs and $9.8 billion in tourism-related sales in 2001.

Vogel says southern Minnesota’s tourism rates fluctuate with the economy, but the prominent pork industry doesn’t seem to be a factor.

“We haven’t seen anything that could be even remotely connected with hog operations,” he says. “That just hasn’t been an issue.”


Looking to the future

While Hardy sees the Schellenberg site as a threat to the gorge, he also sees something else: empty farms surrounding Walhalla.

“Back in 1965, there was 2,000 (people) within 10 miles of the city,” he said. “Now, there’s nobody home.”

Carol Goodman, executive director of the Cavalier County Job Development Authority in Langdon, says her board of directors is committed to developing animal agriculture “where it can and should occur.” Langdon lost 40 percent of its population in the 1990s.

“As a result of that, we are not sitting around not looking toward the future,” she says. “This is a very aggressive economic development agency.”

When Elite Swine approached the authority two years ago about possible development in Cavalier County, agency members provided information to the company and also toured the Maple Leaf Foods packing plant in Brandon, Man.

“Agriculture is our main industry, and agriculture is changing,” Goodman says from her office in Langdon, the durum capital of North Dakota. “It means we have to become informed and try to change with it to the best of our ability.”

What the region needs now is an informed discussion,” Goodman says.

“This has been a tough issue,” she adds. “It’s unfortunate, because it comes up so fast, and without the proper information, it does scare people.”

To ease those fears and help local agencies make future decisions, the state Agriculture Department is planning an informational meeting about hog operations, tentatively set for late February or early March.

Experts from all sides of the issue will attend the meeting, which probably will be in Fargo or Grand Forks, says Jeff Weispfenning, deputy agriculture commissioner.

“I think we’re looking to have the whole program very much science-based so that people can look at the science and the information and draw their own conclusions,” he says.

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