Citizens in Waseca County are mobilizing against a number of large farm expansions that promise to bring at least 16,000 hogs to the southeastern Minnesota county. Concerns about air and water quality have prompted residents to challenge county feedlot regulations. Farmers looking to expand say the current ordinance does the job, but now Waseca County commissioners are reviewing existing regulations.
Just outside of Janesville, the Nyquist family is opposing a proposed 2,000 hog operation, which is scheduled to go up 1,000 feet from their home. They are already surrounded on three sides by similar operations. Air quality is a major concern.
CHICKENS AND RABBITS run free around the Norquist farm in Janesville. The small farm is bordered on three sides by large livestock operations, which - depending on the direction of the wind - can make working outside a challenge. Until now they tolerated the odors, but a proposal to locate 2,000 hogs 1,000 feet from their home forced the family into action.
"That's about a mile away, and when it blows from the east you don't put clothes on the clothes line, you do not open the window," says Pam Norquist, a neighbor to one of the hog farms. "There are times you can't do any yard work."
The new hog operation called the "Man-Erd" project, is proposed for a site just up the road from the Norquists. Earlier this month, more than 40 neighbors crammed into the tiny Alton Township Hall to voice their objections. Man-Erd is one of several big hog farms proposed in Waseca County awaiting county approval. It's a phenomenon encouraged by rising pork prices and dropping interest rates.
At the other end of the county, Peter Zimmerman farms 1,500 acres with his brother and a cousin. In addition to soy beans and corn, Zimmerman raises 2,400 hogs in a state-of-the-art facility. Access to the animals in two long metal sheds is allowed only to those who shower and change clothes.
Zimmerman says its unfair that his two proposals for expansion have been fought by neighbors. One, a plan for a 1,600 cow dairy, led neighbors to file a lawsuit against the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. With that project tied up in litigation, Zimmerman has proposed to duplicate his existing livestock setup with plans to add 2,400 more hogs.
Peter Zimmerman, who is proposing a 1,600 cow dairy and two large hog sheds, stands in front of his current 2,400 farrow-to-finish hog operation.
"I'm not doing this project to offend my neighbors," he says. "This project is not being done to try and affect their lifestyle in any way. We are trying to take great pains to do anything that might have an effect on their lifestyle, but it really gets down to if I'm a farmer in the country, am I going to be able to continue to grow my farm for the next generation?"
But lifestyles have been affected by large livestock operations. In Renville County last week, state officials acknowledged that a large hog operation violated air quality requirements more than 100 times in the past year.
Renville County's response to feedlot concerns has come in the form of a moratorium. While Waseca County commissioners are not expected to adopt such a dramatic stance, they are in the process of reviewing the county's three-year-old feedlot ordinance. At present, Waseca County is not as restrictive as others in limiting large livestock operations.
County Commissioner Roy Srp believes the county's regulations need overhaul, perhaps to include a new requirement of residency in the county.
"Before we just continue to allow things to proceed as they are, we should have facts and have all the criteria we need that we aren't harming the environment and future generations," Srp says.
With proposals that could add more than 16,000 hogs in Waseca County up for approval, people on both sides of the issue are gearing up for a fight.