Ryan: We've went from the point where we had restraining orders against neighbors, because they couldn't stop fighting amongst themselves over the ValAdCo issue.People who lived next to the lagoons complained bitterly about the smell.
Dawson: I can tell you that their investment in ValadCo has put the Tisdells in jeopardy of losing the farm that their family has farmed for five generations.Both Churchill and ValAdCo also face environmental problems. Both farms are operating under expired environmental permits. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and Renville County are investigating allegations of spills and discharges from the Churchill lagoons.
Jansen: It's been five long years for us out here. You sit there and you just shake your head. We're getting sick, our quality of life has gone down the tubes completely, they're breaking the law, and it keeps seeming that everyone wants to give ValAdCo a break. The patience is running very, very thin out here.After years of complaints, Renville County commissioners are drawing up their own air quality standards. The standards could put additional pressure on ValAdCO and Churchill, but Renville County Commissioner Francis Schweiss says the county does not want to see the farms go under.
Schweiss: It's something we don't even want to think about because it wouldn't be good.When the big farms first came to Renville County, Schweiss and others tried to get them to post bonds or put up land for collateral to pay for any future cleanup. But that effort failed.
Schweiss: Say this happens like you're talking, it goes bankrupt and nobody picks it up, and the site has got to be cleaned up; it's going to come back on the shoulders of the taxpayer.Officials at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency do not have estimates for a clean-up of an operation the size of ValAdCo or Churchill. County Commissioner Bob Ryan says the county board doesn't either.
Ryan: I have no idea at all. We haven't had a conversation, or any type of a conversation like that, nor do we want to. I firmly believe that these times - like all times - will change and things will get better, and we will eventually address these issues and move forward.Board members of the Churchill Cooperative declined to be interviewed on tape for this report. Churchill's lender, Farm Credit Services, declined comment.
Crum: (The) wind's kind of coming out of the south, we'll go on the north end so you'll be right downstream of the wind.The company has covered 10 of its 14 lagoons with heavy black fabric. Crum drives up the steep bank of the berm surrounding one of the covered lagoons, then steps outside.
Crum: So here we are. For the record, the wind is blowing directly at us, over the face of the lagoon, the sow facility is just 100 feet there on the other side of us, you can see the lagoon in all its functions, sitting there before us, and I ask you, Mrs. Reporter, what's the level of odor here?There is only a faint, musty odor; nothing like the gut-wrenching smell that once rolled off ValAdCo's lagoons.
Crum: We are not scientists here, we are farmers and we don't know all of the answers. Most recently, what we've done with covering the lagoons has been very been successful. We're extraordinarily pleased. We feel it's a good foundation, not an end, but rather a good start for eventually reducing odors to zero.In the years since ValAdCo and Churchill were built, many hog farmers have come to consider manure lagoons an outdated and failed technology.
Jansen: It just irritates me when we all know this facility shouldn't have been built in the first place.Renville County Commissioner Bob Ryan says he doubts anyone would have gone ahead with the big farms if they had had any idea what lay ahead; the financial losses to Renville County farmers, and the rift in the community. Renville County commissioner Bob Ryan.
Ryan: It's been very hard on our people and I'd sure like to see neighbors be neighbors again. Maybe not everyone would get what they want, but at least get to a point where we can move on and have neighborhood children playing with each other again and families talking again that used to.