Every day, Rick Jarrett pays a visit to his hogs.
Each morning the Elwood resident climbs aboard his silver Dodge pickup and travels a few hundred yards down County Road 1500 North to the massive hog barn he built last fall. He clears manure from the aisles, makes minor repairs and checks the status of his livestock using one of the sophisticated computer terminals mounted on the wall.
Hogs have been Jarrett’s livelihood for the past 31 years. Hogs helped him pay for the silver pickup, the farmhouse down the road and college education for his children.
On Tuesday, the Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals will decide whether to grant Jarrett a special-use exemption to create a 4,000-hog structure to his confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) at the corner of county roads 1300 North and 700 West in Duck Creek Township.
The debate has pitted neighbor against neighbor. Jarrett and his supporters say they have the right to expand their operations to better their livelihood and provide for future generations. Their opponents worry that their quality of life will suffer and that the environmental impact of CAFOs outweighs farmers’ rights.
Jarrett has already received approval from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM).
His proposal calls for the construction of a second “hog barn,” a structure 81-feet, 6-inches wide and 413-feet long that would house 4,000 head of swine. The hogs arrive weighing around 50 pounds and leave 100 to 120 days later having swelled to around 300 pounds.
Jarrett’s original plan called for two massive hog barns and 8,000 animals, but he scaled back his proposal as a compromise to his critics.
“We’re trying to accommodate things, to make things right,” Jarrett said. “As a good-faith measure we said we would just build one building instead of two. That’s not what I wanted to do, but if it helps these people accept us, then I’m willing to do that. When you’re talking about this kind of money, I think that means a lot.”
So, exactly how much money is he talking about? Jarrett said his total cost for creating that facility would run about $750,000.
“Find a small business willing to move into the community that wants to spend this kind of money,” he said. “Look at downtown Elwood. Wouldn’t they like to have a small business willing to spend this kind of money move into the community?”
In the minds of many, the words “family farm” conjure up a fairy tale image of agrarian life. The farmer, his wife, their children, a few hundred acres, a chicken coop, a vegetable garden and a half-dozen dairy cows. But those who flee the city and the suburbs to the country, family-owned farms represent traffic, pollution and offensive odors.
In May, when Jarrett first came before the BZA with his proposal, more than a dozen of his neighbors and other interested parties were on hand to speak out against hog barn CAFO, located about two miles from the existing site. They expressed concerns over issues such as drinking water, air quality and property values.
Tom Austin, superintendent of Elwood Community Schools expressed his concerns that an expanded CAFO would mean a further devaluation of the tax base which has already given Elwood the highest school tax rate in the county.
“I'm not an expert on farming, but I do know a lot about school finance,” Austin said. “In my ongoing stewardship of the finances of our school corporation, I feel this operation will only lead to the further devaluation of our school tax base.
“This will further erode our ability to educate our kids.”
Michael and Carolyn Trimble of Elwood live near the Jarrett farm on County Road 700 West and have been some of the most vocal opponents of the expanded CAFO.
Michael Trimble spoke before the BZA about the traffic congestion and possible water pollution. The couple also joined Cathy Goins in drafting an anonymous letter to rally neighbors against the operation, signed “Concerned Neighbors.”
“We are asking the Madison County Commissioners to impose a moratorium that would prevent any more construction of confined animal feeding operations until studies are completed and rules and regulations are adopted after public hearings have been held,” the Trimbles wrote in a letter to The Herald Bulletin.
“Shouldn’t the main concern of the Madison County Commissioners, the Planning Commission and the Board of Zoning Appeals be to maintain and improve the quality of life for all county residents?” asked Trimble in his letter.
Goins, who said she lives about one-third of a mile from the new hog barn, worries that state regulations are not as thorough as they should be.
“I’m concerned about who is going to regulate it,” Goins said. “IDEM protects us all, but I know from calling down there this week that there are only 15 inspectors in the entire state to inspect all the CAFOs, all the landfills, all the water treatment plants. I don’t think it makes sense.”
In a recent issue of Hoosier Farmer, Dan Villwock, president of the Indiana Farm Bureau Inc. wrote that the common image of rural America no longer exists.
“(That) image of a family farm is one where the farm family that is making their whole living from 250 acres of crops, 15 beef cows, 20 hogs and a big garden. Unfortunately, that farm doesn’t exist any more and hasn’t for some time,” Villwock wrote.
Traditional agriculture, he said, is a mature business, meaning the profit margins are extremely thin. Farmers must expand their volume or seek supplemental income.
“Pork producers a few years ago could make a fair living for their family with 1,000 market hogs,” Villwock wrote. “Today those same farmers need to sell 4,000 or more hogs per years to maintain an adequate standard of living for their families.”
Kari Keller-Steele understands the concerns.
As a consultant with JBS United, she works with farmers to develop their agricultural operations. She also spent part of her career working for IDEM.
“Whenever you’re dealing with public health, you can’t dismiss anything,” Keller-Steele said. “I also feel the vast majority of information provided is at least misguided, somewhat. I believe strongly that it’s very safe, the air quality.”
Keller-Steele worked with Jarrett to put together the eight-part presentation he delivered to the BZA. It contains exhaustive information on every aspect of the proposal, Jarrett’s operation and the permit process. But she said providing that much data is easy compared to altering public perception.
“The thing that’s hardest to combat is the bad image of what can happen,” Keller-Steele said. “Most of the things I heard were, ‘What if this happens, what if that happens? What if the creek is contaminated?’ Nobody can predict the future. Mr. Jarrett runs a top-quality operation right now. In his methods of application he has done all the right things.”
In a study released by the Iowa State University Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering in March, a cat’s litter box, smoking and common household cleaning products had a more profoundly effect on air quality than nearby hog confinements.
“Contrary to some news headlines, the swine operations monitored in this study did not result in hydrogen sulfide or ammonia levels considered to be a risk in relation to federally published guidelines,” said Dr. Steven Hoff of Iowa State. “It shows that just because you smell it, it doesn’t automatically mean it’s a health threat.”
As for water, Jarrett has drilled deep wells between 160 and 180 feet, in compliance with IDEM regulations.
When it comes to traffic, he said his business is no different from any other.
“For one building, we have 200 trucks come in and out over the course of a year. Less than one a day,” Jarrett said. “All of us as grain farmers haul all of our grain on semis and we use a lot more for hauling grain the we ever do hauling livestock. I don’t consider us any different as far as semis than any other business.”
WHAT KIND OF LEGACY
Jarrett’s great-grandfather, a Civil War veteran, began farming the land outside of Elwood more than 100 years ago. At 53, Jarrett has his own descendants in mind.
“We want to leave something for our kids and for their kids,” he said. “We want to farm it for another 10 or 12 years and pass it along to them.”
The legacy Jarrett leaves behind will hinge on what the BZA decides on Tuesday. He said he feels a twinge of resentment toward the policy makers 25 miles away in Anderson who will decide what happens in the traditionally agricultural neighborhood.
Goins, for one, is worried that allowing the expansion will leave the door wide open for out-of-state CAFOs to move in and destroy Madison County.
“I want the state to give as much protection to me as they give lenience to him,” Goins said.
But for every resident who has spoken out against Jarrett’s proposed expansion, another has voiced support. Many of them are fellow farmers who understand the challenge small operations face.
Besides, they argue, no one lives closer to the livestock than Jarrett and his family. Would he really risk their safety?
“The Jarretts... have been farming in this area for a long time and (have) proven to be good stewards of the land, good managers and good citizens of the community,” said one supporter, Mark Sigler. “They are asking for the approval to make a long-term investment in their farm to give their next generation an opportunity to earn a living on the farm. The land they live on and farm is their livelihood. If they do something to harm the soil or water it not only affects their home but their ability to earn a living.”
Madison County Commissioner John Richwine, R-North District, said the county has received around a dozen letters and many more phone calls from concerned citizens on both sides of the argument. Some have even called for a moratorium on CAFOs in Madison County.
Supporters say farmers can do as they please as long as they follow the rules and that city slickers need to accept the county’s rural legacy.
“We support the Jarretts in their endeavors to expand their pork production,” wrote Sarah and Cary Aubrey. “As long as pork producers are raising their hogs in a manner that is consistent, if not above, what the law and environmental regulations stipulate, we find that people have no right to complain about what a producer does on his own place.”
Hog meeting Tuesday
The Madison County Board of Zoning Appeals will vote whether to approve a special use exemption for Rick Jarrett to create a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Duck Creek Township Tuesday. The meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the commissioners’ chambers at the Madison County Court House.
By the numbers
5,000 — The number of hogs currently on the Jarrett Family Farm
4,000 — The number of hogs that would be added in the proposed expansion
400 — Number of pens in each hog barn
100 — Hogs housed per pen
7 1/2 — Area, in square feet, allowed per pig
$750,000 — Estimated cost of expansion at Jarrett Family Farm
$10,000 — Estimated annual property tax generated by each hog barn
1,200 — Number of acres operated by the Jarrett family in Duck Creek Township
$50,000-$60,000 — Estimated savings on fertilizer Rick Jarrett anticipates from his expanded hog operation
8 1/2 — Depth, in feet, of pits used to collect manure
37 — Food waste, in pounds, generated for every 100 pounds of food that is processed, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation