BOONVILLE, Mo.— There were well more than 100 dueling emotions packed into the meeting room of the Cooper County Public Health Center last Thursday.
Supporters and opponents of establishing a county health ordinance gathered in response to a large-scale concentrated swine farrowing facility proposed to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources by Minnesota-based company Pipestone System.
The Tipton East operation on Renshaw Drive would consist of a gestation building housing 4,704 sows, a farrowing building with 1,080 sows, and a gilt-development unit for 1,620 female sows weighing more than 55 pounds and 324 nursery pigs, according to the application by Pipestone System affiliate PVC Management II LLC.
A health ordinance would regulate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and manure application in Cooper County further than what is required by state and federal regulations. Nineteen Missouri counties have established similar ordinances regulating odor emissions and distances between farm boundaries and residences.
When the Cooper County Commission announced it would not establish a county health ordinance, applause erupted from many attendees, while others looked on with crestfallen expressions.
"The Cooper County Commission realizes and recognizes that agriculture is an economic engine that drives Cooper County," Western District Commissioner David Booker said. "And as such, the commissioners sought and received agri-ready status for our county. There are currently rules and regulations in place that govern concentrated animal feeding and confined animal feeding operations; and on the advice of legal counsel, the Cooper County Commission will not be pursuing any health ordinance."
The meeting began with Health Center Administrator Melanie Hutton withdrawing a motion to impose a moratorium on CAFOs to allow for public discussion. She said a similar operation has been functioning within the county in Bunceton since 2012 and it would be unfair to deny county resident Dean Gibson the ability to sell 25 acres to Pipestone System affiliates for the Tipton East farrowing facility.
Hutton said she had imposed the moratorium with the intention of establishing a committee of MU Extension experts, agricultural specialists and local farmers to study and discuss the issue surrounding Tipton East and the impact of CAFOs.
Health Center President Patty Dick said the center would accept public comments about the Tipton East facility and other health issues in writing to 17040 Klinton Drive, Boonville, MO, 65233 and at coopercountypublichealth.com/contact.
"By withdrawing the moratorium, we are not saying there will not be any problems now or in the future," Dick said. "It's just we can only address things as they occur without speculating. I do think the committee (Hutton) recommended in her draft was really a good idea, and we would be excited to be part of such a group if the commissioners or whoever in this county would decide such a thing would help these two divergent groups come to some sort of middle line."
The health center offered those concerned with well water quality free water testing to establish baseline water quality and to do follow-up testing to study whether quality is been impacted if Tipton East is installed. Home well water testing kits are available at $10-15 per kit.
Brian Kliethermes, who operates a Bunceton livestock operation, spoke in favor of the commission's decision.
"We oppose any and all county regulations or ordinances that go above and beyond the already existing Missouri state and federal regulations," Kliethermes said.
Area farmer Robert Alpers spoke in opposition to county health ordinances.
"With the high prices of land, I can see that one way to make a place for the next generations (on a farm) — which is my great-nephews, nieces and grandchildren — is to expand in the livestock business, but we don't know where that could go in the future. So this is real important to us as a family. We've seen more and more regulations imposed on us by both the state and federal government. We sure don't need another layer of regulations placed on us at the county level."
Cooper County dairy farmer Chris Lenz said a health ordinance would have been the end of family farming because the livestock industry is getting more expensive to operate in and area farmers need the opportunity to expand to compete in the marketplace.
"I've got two kids in college," Lenz said. "I don't know what the future holds for them, but if we had these restrictions, and in five years they came back to my operation and said, 'Dad, I want to farm,' (they) couldn't do it."
Susan Williams, who lives about a mile from the proposed Tipton East site, spoke in favor of a health ordinance, saying she does not trust an independent manure-spreading company hired by Pipestone to safely apply manure to the fields near her home because those companies do not have to follow DNR regulations imposed on row crop farmers, and Pipestone would not be held liable for the manure once it is exported from its facility.
"Mr. Kliethermes, I know you've done a really good job with putting the manure on your fields," Williams said. "That's great; but you are a farmer, you own your land, and you take care of it, and you have to follow DNR regulations."
As of Friday afternoon, the Cooper County health center had received a comment from Ralph Taylor expressing skepticism of the negative impacts a health ordinance would impose on county livestock operators and voicing concern the health center and County Commission had not done enough research on the health and environmental impacts of CAFOs.