Hog waste moratorium advances in Legislature
By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on March 11, 2007 9:42 AM
With the House Agricultural Committee voting Wednesday to extend the current moratorium on hog farms and lagoons for three more years, farmers in Wayne and Duplin counties are taking the decision in stride and going about business as usual.
After all, Wayne County Cooperative Extension livestock agent Eileen Coite said, it's a rule they have been dealing with for the last 10 years.
"It's something that's been around for so long now that everyone just kind of accepts it," she said. "Our people weren't happy when it happened, but now they just kind of accept it."
And most everybody seems to think the moratorium on new hog farms and waste lagoons will be passed by both the full House and Senate and eventually signed by the governor. If it does, it will last until September 2010.
"We don't want any more hog lagoons," House Agricultural Committee member state Rep. Louis Pate, R-Wayne, said.
Even those groups who oppose the moratorium have admitted that it's more or less just a way of life now.
"Our position is consistent with that of the North Carolina Pork Council," Dan Butler, director of government relations and public affairs for Warsaw-based Murphy-Brown LLC, said. "As a matter of principle we're opposed to a moratorium on any legal business, but we've adjusted to the moratorium in North Carolina and the industry is doing fine, and I guess there's no real big driving force to get into a fight over lifting it."
For Ronnie Parks in the Indian Springs community of Wayne County, raising hogs has been a family business since before he was born.
"I'm a small, independent producer and it would be advantageous if I could expand a little bit and have a little more economic opportunities, but I think the moratorium will be extended," he said.
And even if it wasn't, there really isn't room for many of Wayne County's 165 swine operations to grow.
County planning director Connie Price explained that because of zoning regulations mandating swine operations to be at least 1,000 feet from property lines and because of the way the county has been developed over the years, little room is left.
"What that setback does is provide a cushion for that use from other uses that are not similar," he explained.
Right now, Wayne's swine operations are a $163.5 million industry -- the fourth largest in the state.
In Duplin County, however, the story is a little bit different.
There, county planning director Randall Tyndall said, they have plenty of room for expansion and they do not have a countywide zoning ordinance.
Hog farming also is bigger business in Duplin, where there are 495 farms in operation. It's an industry, Duplin Cooperative Extension livestock agent Star Jackson said, that contributes anywhere from 35 percent to 75 percent of the county's tax base.
"We're the No. 1 swine producer in North Carolina," she said.
Now, she continued, many in the industry have turned their attention to the possible implementation of new technologies that could improve or eventually replace the current lagoon and spray field waste management practices.
Among the new technologies are solid waste separators and composters and permeable and impermeable lagoon covers.
"They sound promising, but from what I can see and understand, they're not cost-effective yet," Parks said. "I would hope they can come up with something that's cost-effective and can help. If something was cost-effective and available and it would be beneficial, most farmers would change.
"We want to do the best job we can. As my ancestors said, you've got to leave the land as good or better than you got it."
And that, Pate said, is one reason he voted to extend the moratorium -- to give technology time to continue to improve and become more accessible.
"Science is working on a substitute for waste lagoons and there are some promising prospects, but we want to give time for further exploration," he said. "I'm hopeful that before the three years are up we'll have a solution."
State Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, doesn't want to wait, though.
Already, he's working on legislation to offer incentives and financial assistance to those farmers who volunteer to begin implementing these new technologies.
"The farmers who installed these lagoons were just doing what the state and federal government had approved. They have done everything just as they were mandated to do," Alberston said. "And if we want them to change systems, I think we have a responsibility to help them get there."
He wouldn't expand on what those incentives might be, saying that he's still in the process of developing the legislation, but he hopes something could be approved this session.
"We must move forward immediately to make sure the industry remains economically sustainable while giving our farmers the tools they need to do business in a way that will improve our environment," he said.
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