Published in the August 7 edition of the Fairfield Weekly Reader 

What’s Going On in Southeast Iowa?
 
by Diane Rosenberg, Executive Director, Jefferson County Farmers & Neighbors, Inc. 

Throughout Southeast Iowa, hog production is ramping up. Favorable market conditions are driving expansion throughout Iowa, and Southeast Iowa is particularly affected.

In 2011, Governor Terry Branstad set a 2016 goal to increase pork exports to Southeast Iowa by 20%. Since then, the number of new CAFO applications has increased four- to eightfold in the years 2011-2013. The number of this year’s new applications is on track to surpass 2013’s figures.

China is one of the largest drivers of hog mania in Iowa. It’s cheaper to produce pork in the US than China, according to USDA figures. In 2013 the Chinese company Shaunghai International purchased Smithfield Foods to feed its growing middle class. This left a vacuum in the American pork market that corporations are scrambling to fill.

Lower corn and soy prices also are driving up profits and encouraging expanded pork production, as reflected in the titles of recent National Hog Farmer articles, “Pork Producer Profits Have Never Been Better” and “USDA Reports Show the Good Times Lasting Longer.”

Ironically, production losses from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus (PEDv) are also adding to pork profits as a 10% shortage is increasing prices by as much as 15%. Production is also increasing to make up for these industry losses.

Southeast Iowa is seeing growth for additional reasons. Cargill announced plans in 2011 to construct or expand 30 CAFOs in Southeast Iowa. It’s currently building a feed mill in Hedrick, strategically located near Southeast Iowa CAFOs for economic efficiency. The Excel processing plant in Ottumwa is already a magnet for CAFO development; a Tyson’s plant operates in Columbus Junction.

In the fall of 2013, integrator David Eichelberger, owner of Eichelberger Farms and Milling, announced plans to build 40 more CAFOs in this area as soon as possible to capitalize on lower corn prices.

Wayland turkey producer, AgraWay Partners, announced plans this year to open a hog division, building 48 CAFOs in Henry, Des Moines and Louisa Counties. The DNR says Southeast Iowa is attractive because the countryside is not yet saturated with CAFOs, reported the Burlington Hawkeye.

The Situation in Jefferson County

Jefferson County has seen its share of new CAFOs this year with 10 either proposed or under construction in less populated areas of the county. JFAN is working with neighbors who have reached out for help.

The bigger picture, however, relayed by many diverse, local sources, is that the presence of JFAN and the Iowa legal team of Charlie Speer, Richard Middleton, and Fairfield’s David E. Sykes is discouraging and preventing even greater development.

JFAN is perceived as a headache to CAFO owners because of our ability to help groups organize and pick apart applications. The Iowa legal team is discouraging CAFOs because Jefferson County is perceived as “sue happy.”

We must keep this deterrence up in order to keep our county from being overrun with CAFOs. Your support of JFAN during our 2014 fundraising campaign is crucial for us to continue our work in Jefferson County.

JFAN realizes its time to work with other groups on the state level in order to protect our home base. Partnering with the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, JFAN is organizing a meeting this August drawing over 30 national, state, and local organizations interested in working on a collaborative strategy addressing the CAFO problem in Iowa. We are excited by the enthusiastic response and committed to doing all we can to continue to protect Jefferson County.