The Pork Producer's Viewpoint
Livestock Update, November 1998
Allen Harper, Extension Swine Specialist, Virginia Tech Tidewater AREC
The legitimacy of intensively managed confinement hog farms continues to be debated in localities throughout the country and in rural Virginia counties. Those of us associated with the extension mission of the Land-grant universities have an obligation to provide factual information in the midst of these debates. This is not always a comfortable position to be in. Furthermore, there continues to be a substantial amount of mis-information exchanged in the media and during public hearings. For example one citizen's letter-to-the editor in a local Virginia newspaper indicated that ammonia emissions from confinement hog farms caused acid rain which could damage tobacco leaves during rain events. Ammonia breakdown in soil or water can cause a reduction in pH, but in the air ammonia (a base) will actually have a neutralizing effect on other acidic compounds. It does not cause "acid rain". Another letter published in the same paper suggested that deer hunting would be impaired in areas near hog farms because deer hounds could not effectively follow the scent of deer due to odors from hog houses!
The viewpoint of conscientious hog farmers is important in this debate. On September 30, 1998, I attended a public hearing in Halifax County, Virginia. The purpose of the hearing was to assist the local planning commission in their consideration to alter county ordinances relative to set-backs for intensive livestock feeding operations. Many individuals made brief presentations to the commission and audience during the hearing. Bobbie Wilkerson, a pork producer from the Alton, Virginia community made a presentation that captures the feelings of many conscientious producers. With Mrs. Wilkerson's permission, her comments are reprinted in the following paragraphs of this Livestock Update.
Mrs. Bobbie Wilkerson, Halifax County Public Hearing, September 30, 1998
My husband and I own and operate a farrow to wean farm in Alton, Virginia. I emphasize the word FARM because we ARE farmers. We are proud to be a part of agriculture. We like what we do. Our farming allows us to work together as a family, and to teach our children the value and rewards of honest work. Our primary focus is on pigs, but beef cattle, hay, tobacco, and some grains are also raised on our farm.
I would also like to emphasize that contrary to the claims of Southside concerned citizens, we do graze cattle on our pastureland to which lagoon water has been applied; and we also apply lagoon water to our hay fields and wheat fields. This allows us to reduce commercial fertilization.
Probably the major problem in this controversy is the fact that the majority of the public is uninformed about hog farmers. Most individuals have no idea of what we do and how we do it. The media is responsible for portraying hog farming as only negative. Many of our critics have formed an opinion and have yet to visit a hog farm and learn for themselves just exactly what is involved. We have always welcomed visitors and have had several groups to come see it for themselves. We are committed to what we do, and welcome the opportunity to educate anyone who is interested.
The biggest issue with hogs is odor. We, ourselves, are very sensitive to this concern, and have invested thousands of dollars into odor control measures. Ongoing extensive research is addressing this issue, and I feel that this problem will be solved.
I take offense to some of the propaganda recently printed in the Gazette-Virginian. To imply that we manufacture pigs is ludicrous. If you are uncertain as to how pigs are made, come see us and we'll do our best to tell you about animal reproduction.
Also the implication that workers don't need to think is absolutely insane. One of the main criteria we look for in employees is the ability to think, to assess a situation, and the ability to react appropriately.
As far as an economic impact on the county our farm provides employment for 4 _ individuals and our employees are local individuals. We also patronize local business for supplies needed to operate the farm, for the purchase, and/or repair and maintenance of equipment, and various other needs. When we built our barns, local subcontractors were used as much as possible. We also pay a fairly significant amount in real estate and personal property taxes.
Traditional farming as we know it is gone. The world is changing and agriculture, too, must be allowed to progress.
There is not enough time to address all the issues that concern us, but I want to emphasize that we, too, are concerned for the environment and would never engage in anything we thought would be detrimental.
The state of Virginia already has in place very stringent guidelines which are sufficient; however, I feel a compromise can be reached regarding setbacks, and trust our local officials to be fair to everyone.
Farmers today have been forced to take a stand for their right to farm. We cannot allow extremist to dictate what we can and cannot do on our own land.