More than 160 people crowded into a little country club on an overcast spring evening, but they weren't there for a round of golf. These people were more concerned with row crop fields and manure pits than fairways and sand traps.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources' public meeting Wednesday at the Tipton Country Club addressed public comments and concerns with the proposed Tipton East concentrated animal feeding operation.
The meeting was requested by more than 100 public comments to DNR to discuss a proposed CAFO operation, which would be managed by Pipestone System. DNR received more than 400 comments regarding the proposed CAFO before the meeting, which were added to the comments provided at the meeting.
Each person was given three minutes to offer comment to the DNR panel.
People spoke in favor and against Tipton East, but the vast majority of those who offered comment were against the CAFO.
One comment resounded from many of those opposed to the CAFO: "It's not if it will contaminate water, but when. So, what will we do about it?"
The meeting officially ended DNR's public comment period on the Tipton East CAFO permit application. Patterson said the department will decide to accept or deny Pipestone System's permit in about three weeks. The application requests permission to install and operate a class 1C CAFO that would be housed on 25 acres in Cooper County, currently owned by Dean Gibson, within a mile north of the Moniteau County line near Clarksburg.
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The facility would be Pipestone's seventh in Missouri. Pipestone System is the third-largest producer in the United States. It manages the farrowing operation and facilities of more than 70 sow farms owned by 450 individual farmers, most of which are housed in Minnesota and Iowa. Five of these companies would invest in Tipton East. One would own the land, while four others would receive annual portions of an expected 160,000 weaned piglets, estimated at a value of $6.4 million.
Many people at Wednesday's meeting called for additional studies of aspects like the area's geography and topography to ensure nearby streams and the water table will not be put at risk by Tipton East due to leaks in the manure pits and runoff from fields where the manure is spread. Others who offered comment, such as Zach Witson and Fred Williams, said there are wells and springs on or near the proposed site that are not listed on the CAFO application, and therefore, the application should be denied, because it is not complete and accurate.
Other concerns included the possibility of the CAFO operation using enough water to draw down the area's water table and leave small private wells and livestock operations without water, the increased risk of health concerns like E. coli and the foul odor that would be produced by the operation.
DNR communications manager Connie Patterson said before the meeting that these concerns, such as unreported wells and springs, would be studied and addressed before DNR makes a decision on the application.
The University of Missouri Extension has performed brief studies that showed the proposed site of Tipton East is reasonable but not perfect for a hog CAFO, but the researchers did not visit the site prior to completing the study and were not aware of wells or springs not listed on the application. The Extension's research indicated water pollution could be managed if Tipton East maintains enough cropland to apply the manure and spreaders follow good application practices.
Supporters of Tipton East stated manure is a natural and long-used form of fertilizer that limits the use of commercial fertilizers. Tony Koechner said he wants to spread the manure on his fields and hopes to work with DNR to properly and safely apply the manure, cap possible wells, and handle any other problems with springs and runoff to waterways that may become health or environmental issues.
Some of those who opposed the CAFO said the antibiotics given to the hogs and other components of Tipton East manure could have unforeseen consequences when injected into the soil or after running off into waterways.
Taylor Tuttle said CAFOs have for years been used in Missouri agriculture and should be embraced as part of the modern food production system.
Several people said the farmers who have companies invested in Pipestone System do not live in the area and feel the resources of Cooper County will be put at risk for the gains of people outside Missouri.
According to the application, the operation would consist of a gestation building housing 4,704 sows, a farrowing building housing 1,080 sows, and a gilt-development unit for 1,620 females weighing more than 55 pounds, and 324 nursery pigs.
Pipestone System representatives have said the operation would employ about 17 full-time workers. Laborers would be paid a starting wage of $14 per hour, while managers could earn approximately $100,000 a year. The company reported the annual payroll, including benefits, would be $1.25 million.
Manure would be contained in 10-foot-deep pits below the facilities until it is pumped out with a hose that could extend about 3 miles and injected into adjacent cropland using lifetime easements. Hog carcasses will be composted and used for fertilizer as well. They would be covered with wood chips and other materials in an above-ground, open-air structure with a capacity of 186 tons per year.
DNR regulations require landowners to spread manure 50 feet or further from property lines and 300 feet from a well. Manure can be applied 35 feet from streams if there is vegetation or a hill in between and 100 feet away if the hill slopes toward the waterway.
However, DNR regulations would not apply to Tipton East. As an export-only operation — meaning all manure will be spread on fields owned by area farmers and not CAFO property — Pipestone would not be legally liable if area waters are polluted by runoff from the fields. A professional spreading company would apply manure to fields it does not own, so it is not liable for DNR regulation violations.
Several comments at the meeting called for changing the export-only regulation exemptions so all people spreading manure on crop fields have to follow the same rules. Others said Missouri's permit requirements should be changed so the permits can be revoked if too many problems occur.
Pipestone representatives have said the company would accept moral obligation to help clean any spills or other contaminates.