Legislation proposed to reclassify farms as small operations
As Iowa officials near an agreement with federal authorities who are seeking tougher inspections of the state's livestock operations to prevent water pollution, activists are protesting a proposal they argue would make it easier for some farmers to avoid oversight.
Legislation proposed in the House and Senate would allow some livestock producers to close down barns and be reclassified as small operations. That would mean they no would longer need to file plans for manure disposal with the state.
Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement protested in the state Capitol. They argue that the measures 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.
"What they shouldn't be allowed to do is dump it in an abandoned building," said David Goodner, a community organizer with CCI.
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.
Sen. Joe Seng, D-Davenport, chairman of the Senate agriculture committee, said the legislation is not designed to provide regulation loopholes.
He said the measure, backed by the industry group Iowa Pork Producers, is geared at farmers who want to temporarily idle part of their operation, perhaps because a child is going away to college or due to economic hardship.
Under current rules, to deactivate a barn, one must remove equipment and render the facility unusable. Seng said it's costly and complicated to shutter a barn for a brief time.