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Iowa Senate approves new rules on downsizing farms

May 9, 2013 | 0 comments

Environmental activists expressed concern about water pollution risks after the Iowa Senate approved a measure that would allow livestock producers to shutter some barns and be subject to less state oversight.

The bill, approved 43-6, makes it easier for some farms to downsize by allowing them to close barns and be reclassified as small operations. Then they no would longer need to file plans for manure disposal with the state.

Supporters say the bill would help farmers who want to temporarily close a barn, perhaps because a child who was helping on the farm went off to college or due to illness or financial hardship.

"You can lose your shirt in the hog business," said Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport. "This allows a farmer to get out of the hog business for a specified time. He may not want to get completely out of the business."

But Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement argued that the measure will allow farmers to store manure in those idled barns, which could lead to water-polluting spills either when the waste is transported or while it sits in an unsupervised facility.

In response to the criticism, Seng amended the legislation to require producers who want to temporarily store manure in idled barns to seek permission from the state. But David Goodner, an organizer with Citizens for Community Improvement, said the amendment wasn't enough.

"We think this is a gift to the industry and it's a loss for clean water," Goodner said.

Under current rules, producers who want to deactivate a barn must remove equipment and render the facility unusable. Supporters of this legislation say it can be an expensive process to start using the structure again.

Iowa has roughly 8,000 livestock operations and is the leading hog-producing state in the U.S. The legislation would apply to an estimated 6,100 operations that confine livestock in roofed structures.

Currently, if those producers have a certain amount of livestock, they must have a plan for disposing manure and cannot spread the waste on frozen or snow-covered ground in the winter months.

A version of this bill has already received House approval. The amended legislation will now return to the House for review.

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