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Farmers Fight Corporate Farming

State Capital Bureau

May 09, 1995

NOTE: Sidebar to main story HOGS1.HTM.

JEFFERSON CITY _ Northern Missouri farmers, at least some of them, have called out the big guns to fight corporate agriculture:

@ The Rev. Jesse Jackson recently added his voice to little Lincoln Township's anti-corporate hog farming chorus, describing family farmers as a stripe in his Rainbow Coalition.

@ Willie Nelson's tour bus stopped in the rural township April 1. to speak to a rally against Premium Standard Farms' 80,000-sow operation in northern Missouri.

@ And in late April, family farmers from across the Midwest hiked from Lincoln Township to the National Rural Summit in Ames, Ia., to make sure President Clinton feels their pain.

Despite the furious campaign, family farming activists are swimming against a swift current _ the nationwide shift in hog production from independent to corporate farming.

The options are limited. Lincoln Township's 146 voters tried to use the power of grass-roots government to halt PSF's expansion in northern Missouri last year.

Voters approved a zoning ordinance that would regulate the location of animal-waste lagoons and demands safeguards against leaking lagoons.

They quickly found themselves cast as David in a costly court battle against a hog-raising Goliath. PSF slapped the township with an $8 million lawsuit.

"What we're asking them to do is simple, common-sense, good-neighbor behavior," said Scott Dye, a Columbia resident whose family owns a farm in Lincoln Township. "Your property rights end where my nose begins."

Yet it's ironic that rural residents would even ask for zoning regulations, said James Rhodes, professor emeritus of agricultural economics at M.U.

Typically, rural residents oppose zoning, he said. One reason they live in rural areas is that they like to do as they please with their land. Only the arrival of the megaproducer forced them to abandon their laissez-faire convictions.

State laws prohibiting corporate farming probably offer the best protection against the annihilation of small, family hog farmers.

Nebraska, which restricts corporate farming, lost only 4 percent of its independent hog farms. During the same period, unfettered corporate operations drove out nearly half of North Carolina's independent producers.

Iowa had success keeping PSF out. In 1989, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, backed by Gov. Terry Branstad, denied PSF a permit for a waste lagoon.

The megaproducer then set up shop across the border, in Missouri, where they found a more welcoming political climate.

Rep. Phil Tate, D-Gallatin, represents the district PSF calls home. He said he supported exempting three northern Missouri counties _ where PSF raises 1.6 million hogs each year _ from the state's corporate farming restriction.

The exemption, approved in 1993, ensured PSF the loans needed to build a new packing plant in Milan, Mo., Tate said. "We wanted those 500 jobs."

Tate said he faced death threats when he ran for re-election last fall against an anti-corporate farming candidate.

"I still won by 60 percent of the vote in a GOP year," he said. "That was a referendum on the issue."

Still, Tate said there is a need to regulate large-scale hog producers. He introduced a bill to set up a task force on air quality.

Tate stands by his position to support PSF, though he said there is a smell that comes with having pig barns and waste lagoons virtually next door.

"This is not a perfect industry," he said. "But the reports of odor are greatly exaggerated. It's tolerable.

"So far, the industry has been very good to and for northern Missouri," Tate added. "My position as a public-policy maker is to represent the majority opinion."