How many is enough?

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

There might be an Iowa State Extension report somewhere on this: If you leave an old wooden barn door open for 100 hogs who are standing outside and if you leave the door open to a heated metal confinement building a majority would happily herd inside the confinement for a supper prepared by a veterinary dietician in Virginia. The mean, tough old boars might retire to the barn to prove a point. We are not against confinement buildings per se. We are not against livestock. We believe that livestock production and processing, done right, hold the key to a healthy Iowa economy and environment going forward.

But too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.

Too many hogs concentrated in one place are bad for the air and water, and the hogs and the humans. We have enough hogs situated around Storm Lake already. But we are about to see a lot more, based on what the courthouse folks have seen and heard. It makes more sense to put hogs or dairy cattle here than in karst soil types in Northeast Iowa, or near sensitive trout streams. But the way Iowa law was written two decades ago — to which we objected with full froth — local people have no say over whether hogs or cattle or poultry are shoved down their throats until they choke on it.

Unquestionably, there are still plenty of isolated sites in Buena Vista and surrounding areas where hoghouses are appropriate, even welcome. But there has to be some way to accommodate for extreme circumstances, which we witness all the time. At some point we have to acknowledge that we are putting too much load on certain areas. We need a livestock infrastructure that respects neighbors and keeps land and water whole. In most of the confinements around here we have approached that balance, at least, because the operator owns the land and does not want to offend the neighbors. Manure is a valuable fertilizer that is preferable to commercial petrochemically-produced alternatives. Turkey litter is a great compost fertilizer. Liquid hog manure in the winter isn’t so good. We all know what works, and our rules should reflect it. The Buena Vista County Board of Supervisors certainly is sympathetic to the Iowa Farm Bureau and the Iowa Pork Producers, but even they are frustrated that their voice is irrelevant to the process. If you score well enough on the master manure matrix, you are in. That matrix pays no heed to the Century Farm just downwind.

We need a moratorium on more hoghouses until we can figure out:

• How many hog and poultry confinements are there in Iowa? Nobody actually knows.

• Where are they?

• Should certain regions of the state, such as Northeast Iowa, have tighter limits on confinements and manure application, based on soil types or proximity to highly sensitive water bodies?

• Do we have enough water for more hogs? A 2008 report on the Dakota Aquifer at Storm Lake says we are near the pumping limit. That report has not been updated in a decade for lack of funds.

• Are rules written when Rep. Russ Eddie chaired the House Agriculture Committee archaic?

• How many hogs do we need to feed the existing, or planned, slaughter plants?

• At what point does livestock concentration impact animal and human health?

Iowa has refused to approach, much less answer, these questions.

The forces putting more hogs in Iowa are more powerful than the voices out here asking when enough is enough. But when the same people who voted for Russ Eddie and bought the Farm Bureau line that “we can’t have 99 different sets of rules” (since it is more convenient to buy one statehouse than 99 courthouses) are now standing up and demanding change, it might just happen. We need a thorough discussion and review. That might happen after the November elections.

Let Congress go first

Iowa legislators this week are expected to discuss a bill that would penalize municipalities thought to be “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants. The sponsors claim it is targeted at the undocumented who have committed crimes. There are too many examples to cite of good intentions creating awful side effects. Those bad waves will come crashing over Storm Lake and create conflicts that we cannot even imagine. One we can imagine: The Iowa Supreme Court already has ruled that police shall not arrest people merely for not having papers. The Storm Lake Police Department follows that court directive. The city coffers already are drained from bad legislation. We don’t need the expense of being a test case between the high court and a law drafted during a re-election session.

The Legislature should concentrate on the Medicaid and education budgets and forget about sanctuary cities legislation. Congress is tied in knots right now over these questions. What makes Iowa Republicans think this morass will prove any more productive politically for them than it has been for US House Speaker Paul Ryan? Let Congress do its thing, if anything, and then reflect on how the state should react to a federal question.

Police across Iowa are opposed to this bill. They don’t want immigrants hiding in the shadows from them. Our police remind us all the time how immigrants are their eyes and ears keeping our streets safe. We like our safe town. Let’s keep it that way by embracing the undocumented and getting them right with the law. That is the job solely of Congress.