A study committee is considering whether to recommend changes to Miami County’s ordinance regulating large-scale animal farms after some residents expressed concerns about a new operation that will house over 4,600 pigs.
The Miami County Plan Commission last year formed the study committee following push-back on the construction of the hog barn near the intersection of 100 East and 500 North. According to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the facility has the capacity to store over 1.8 million gallons of manure and wastewater.
The county’s ordinance regulating confined animal feeding operations (CAFO) says farms must be built at least 1,000 feet away from the nearest residence and be located on at least 10 acres of land that are zoned as agriculture. Miami County currently has 54 CAFOs.
But some residents are asking for stricter guidelines that would deter more large-scale animal farms from coming to the county.
Peru resident Mimi Berkshire told the committee during a public hearing held Tuesday evening that she wanted a 1,320-foot setback in the hopes that would stop future construction of CAFOs.
“There are a lot of pigs in Miami County,” she said. “The ones that are already here, I don’t have a problem with. I just don’t want to see any more.”
Berkshire also said the county should consider the Nickle Plate Trail, which runs mostly through rural parts of the county, when considering changes to the ordinance.
“Do you really think someone wants to come ride that trail and be overwhelmed with what it smells like?” she said. “If you want to encourage people to come to Miami County to visit or live here, then you’re going to have to think about that.”
County resident Bonnie Arrick said she believed the county should regulate CAFOs as an industrial site rather than an agricultural operation – a move she said would likely end the construction of most new animal farms.
“Is a CAFO actually a form of agriculture?” Arrick said. “We all realize these animals aren’t out on the land. These are animal factories. A lot of this could be solved by labeling them what they really are, and that’s an industry.”
But others said the county ordinance is fine as it is and asked the committee to leave it untouched.
Brian Troyer, the financial services officer at Farm Credit Services of Mid-America who lives in Miami County, said the current setback and acreage requirements create an adequate separation between neighbors.
“It’s never a livestock producer’s intent to cause people harm or damage or discomfort,” he said.
Troyer also said the county shouldn’t discourage the construction of CAFOs, since most of them are family-owned farms that generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue for the county.
Elaine Dragstrem, who spoke on behalf of the Miami County Farm Bureau, also asked for no changes to the ordinance. She said CAFOs are adequately regulated by the county and state, and modern technology has made them safer than ever.
But Tom Hoover, who lives near where the new hog barn will be built, pointed to a study by Johns Hopkins University that said CAFOs are directly associated with occupational and community health risks, as well as the social and economic decline of rural communities.
“Somewhere along the line, you’ve got to say, ‘Hey, you’re polluting the air, you’re affecting our health and waterways and rivers,’” Hoover told the committee. “It’s common sense.”
But Annie Osborne, who lives near Bunker Hill and works in the swine industry, disagreed. She said everyone she knows who is involved in operating CAFOs aims to do so responsibly.
“One of the main things I’ve learned is the dedication this industry has to ensuring our social, environmental and economic growth,” Osborne said.
The study committee is set to meet again on Feb. 4, when it will vote on whether to recommend changes to the county ordinance.
From there, the county plan commission would have to approve the recommendations. The Miami County Board of Commissioners would then make the final vote on whether to change the ordinance.