04/19/07 — Senate OKs law that ends future state hog lagoons

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Senate OKs law that ends future state hog lagoons

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 19, 2007 1:45 PM

Hog farmers and swine producers weren't surprised this morning to wake up and hear the news that the North Carolina Senate had voted Wednesday to permanently ban any new lagoon and spray field operations.

"It really does not surprise me they're making the ban permanent," Tony Ballance of Ballance Farms in Fremont said. "It was more or less expected. We live in a political climate in North Carolina in which the people are unwilling to let us build new hog farms."

Passed by a unanimous vote, the bill, which was introduced by Sen. Charlie Albertson, D-Duplin, permanently extends the moratorium that has been in place since 1997.

"We've had a ban in place on lagoons since 1997, and we've extended it two or three times. This doesn't change anything as far as the farms that are in place. This just makes that (moratorium) permanent," Albertson said. "I don't think it was going to change and the other senators didn't think it was going to change."

The bill also would create a program to help farmers afford to implement the new alternatives to lagoons and spray fields. Currently, hog farms can be built and expanded as long as they meet certain requirements. The problem is, the technologies that are being considered and researched are too expensive for most producers.

"If we can get the money, we can help the small farmers put in the superior technologies," Albertson said. "Right now, they're not economically feasible, but we're hoping if we can get it in the fields we'll be able to find a way to lower the costs."

Participation in the program, though, he stressed, would be up to the farmers.

"This doesn't mandate anything. It would be completely voluntary," he said.

And, Wayne County Cooperative Extension Service agricultural agent Eileen Coite said that she thinks area farmers would be willing to change their systems if they got some help.

"This (ban) was expected, but there does need to be some sort of assistance for farmers," she said. "I really think they would have open minds in terms of using the new technologies if they could afford it."

But, Ballance said he's not sure that even state help would entice him to switch out his lagoon and spray field systems right now -- not because he doesn't want to help the environment, but because of the short- and long-term expenses involved.

"If they can show me something that's as economically feasible and environmentally friendly as what we have now, I would entertain the idea, but I don't believe in change for change's sake," Ballance said.

He explained that their decision would depend on what kind of system he could switch to, how much of the initial cost the state could pay and what the long-term maintenance costs would be.

"It depends on what kind of profit I could still make," he said. "But until the science catches up with politics, I don't think you'll see much expansion in North Carolina."

The bill will now go to the House, where earlier this session, legislators on the Agriculture Committee approved a three-year extension of the moratorium.

Rep. Russell Tucker, D-Duplin, said though, that he thinks the House would likely look favorably on a permanent ban. In fact, he added, he's already begun rewriting one of his bills to read similar to Albertson's with language banning the new lagoon and spray field systems, while offering help to state farmers.

"I think it probably has a chance," he said.