Hickory County considers ordinance to regulate big farms, going against new state law

WHEATLAND, Mo. Many farmers in the Hickory County area aren't happy over a bill passed by the legislature and signed by Missouri Governor Mike Parson.

"Missouri Senate Bill 391 takes the rights away from local citizens, local landowners, rural landowners, family farmers, independent livestock producers, and local elected representatives," said Tim Gibbons with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center

The bill protects large-scale hog farms and other concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. It set's regulations on where CAFOs can pump manure, but takes the power away from local governments to set their own standards.

"With someone regulating it over 100 miles away, how are they regulating? When somebody's here everyday, and they get those complaints to come into that commission meeting, and they say we have a problem, we're here locally. We're going to check it out that day," said Keith Mertz, Hickory County Presiding Commissioner.

By definition, a CAFO is a large barn that holds 1000 cattle, or 2500 hogs in confinement for at least 45 days a year on a small land area.

"Let me remind you, these things are now listed by the state of Missouri as permanent nuisances," said Darvin Bentlage, a local cattle and grain farmer. "With the Department of Natural Resources' rules as they exist, can pump within 50 feet of your house, your church, your school."

Bentlage said because of potential for water pollution, that restriction needs to be greater.

"Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Arkansas, are all more stringent than the ones here in Missouri," Bentlage noted.

Now, Hickory County is considering implementing its own ordinances for CAFO control next week.

But, it the ordinance is passed, it would go against Senate Bill 391,
which goes into effect on August 28.

"My concern with the local regulations are the setbacks that are involved with that," said John Murphy, a cattleman in Hickory County.

Murphy said his family-owned operation has 800 acres. Under the proposed Hickory County ordinance, they'd have to be a quarter mile away from a stream and a quarter mile away from an occupied residence to pump manure.

"All of the sudden now, you've taken a half mile of my land that I have purchased and told me you can not do this on there, even though the regulations from the state that have been backed up by years and years of science are saying it's okay to do," Murphy said.

The ordinance is expected to be presented on August 22, with a potential vote on August 26.