Rumor that a huge industrial hog farm is requesting to build a farrowing operation in Alix has been verified.

According to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), Coon Tree Farm Inc. submitted a permit application for a Liquid Animal Waste Management System under the provisions of APC&EC Regulation 5 on July 23, 2018.

ADEQ has not yet completed its review of the application but in accordance with Ark. Code Ann. § 8-4-203(n), the Department shall give notice of its proposed action within one hundred twenty (120) days of receipt of a completed application. However, this timeline may change based on circumstances outside the control of the Department, said an ADEQ spokesperson.

A letter sent to landowners adjacent to the proposed site from Phillip Campbell of Coon Tree Farm, Inc., said he was requesting a Regulation 5 permit from ADEQ to build a sow farrowing operation housing a total of 10,374 pigs, sows, gilts and boars. “All effluent will be stored in under-house pits before land application, eliminating outside traditional settling basins and holding ponds. Land application will be on row crops in Franklin and Johnson counties.,” the letter states.

The proposed Coon Tree Farm site is less than a mile from the Arkansas River and Cedar Creek drainage ditch that channels flood water to the river. Land owners in the area pay a special tax to maintain the Cedar Creek drainage ditch to serve parts of the flood-prone Alix bottoms.

In addition to concerns about water pollution, many Franklin County residents and county officials are worried about the effects of foul odors generated by hog waste that could impact surrounding property values and local tourism.

Case in point. In a recent North Carolina ruling, a federal judge ordered Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, to pay $473.5 million to neighbors of three North Carolina industrial-scale hog farms for “unreasonable nuisances they suffered from odors, flies and rumbling trucks,” according to a recent news article.

A Little Hog History

At one time, hog farming was considered a “mortgage lifter” because it was a way for farmers to increase their income during lean years, said Arkansas Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Franklin County District Conservationist, Cody Carlile.

Arkansas and Franklin County always had smaller scale hog operations, but most have shut down, not because of environmental reasons, but because the market moved away so it was not feasible to operate anymore. However, this scenario changed when huge industrial hog farms became popular because they can withstand the up and downs of the market better than small hog operations, Carlile explained.

While ADEQ’s decision on Coon Tree Farm’s Regulation 5 operating permit is expected within 120 days, the farm will also have to pass several other tests and requirements before they can start operating, said Carlile.

“A lot of aspects go into it because it’s a long process involving several agencies,” said Carlile. In addition to ADEQ approval within 120 days, Coon Tree Farm will also need environmental statements from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, so it may take months or years to get it going, he explained.

Economic Impact of Industrial Hog Farms

According to a 2007 online article “Economic Impacts of Hog Operations”, Michigan Pork Quarterly, written by Glynn Tonsor, Livestock Extension Economist, the Fiscal Impact Summary for an operation with 3,400 sows was $30,522 revenue to the county, $32,028 to schools, total local revenue was $18,500 and county expenditures was about $50,000. While Coon Tree Farm will have 10,000 hogs, it is not know how many will be sows, so this is a general estimate for comparison.

Another on-line article Economic Fallacies of Industrial Hog Production by John Ikerd, University of Missouri, 2001, under the sub-heading,”Fallacy: Rural communities in agricultural areas will benefit from large-scale corporate hog operations, the author concludes, “Industrial hog production destroys the most valuable resources rural communities have for building a sustainable future.

On a positive note, the online article, Hog Farming Has Positive Impact on Communities, written by the N.C. Cooperative Extension in 2010 said, “A 10-year Iowa State University study confirms what many farmers already know to be true: farm families raising hogs in modern barns have a positive social and economic benefit on their neighborhoods and communities.”

Local Reaction

With the potential for a large-scale industrial hog operation in Franklin County, local farmers, citizens and county officials are beginning to speak out.

Franklin County Quorum Court Justice Brian Lachowsky Sr., whose District includes Alix, Denning and Altus, spoke to Franklin County Judge Ricky Bowman last week and hopes to start a discussion about the hog farm at an upcoming Quorum Court meeting.

In a recent letter Lachowsky said, “I do not believe the County has any authority in the permitting process of an operation like the one being proposed and believe a landowner should be able to make use of his land in any way he wishes. However, when that activity impacts his neighbors negatively and significantly in terms of their quality of life, health and safety, then the landowner should choose to not engage in those activities as a courtesy and a sign of respect for his neighbors and fellow citizens of Franklin County.

“I am concerned that the proposed farm is in the bottoms of the Arkansas River. I am concerned about the potential of a catastrophic release of manure during a flood event and the damage to the health and safety of people in the county and those people downstream from Franklin County. I am concerned about the runoff from the application of the manure on the fields in the river bottom area.

I believe that the odors from the operation of the farm and the spreading of the manure on adjacent lands will negatively impact the quality of life for property owners for miles around. The Altus area depends on tourism. Tourism has a huge economic impact in this area. The odors from a large hog farm as has been described to me will negatively impact this important part of the economic life of Franklin County.

I am hopeful that the State of Arkansas permit(s) required for the approval of an operation that will have such a negative impact on the people and the economy of Franklin County will take the certainty of flooding, the potential for runoff in to the Arkansas River from the land application of manure, the odor and the negative impact on tourism and decide that an operation like this should not be permitted,” Lachowsky wrote.

Richard Plugge, who farms land adjacent to the proposed Coon Tree Farm, also expressed concern about a large industrial hog operation opening in the River Valley.

Before Campbell’s Coon Tree Farm decided to lease property in Alix, Campbell wanted to build a similar facility in Hartman but that deal was never closed, in part due to vocal opposition by Hartman Mayor Rita Griffin and Hartman resident Plugge, among others. In fact, the Johnson County Quorum Court appointed a special Environmental Impact Committee to address the issue, but that committee was disbanded after learning that Campbell was no longer interested in Johnson County for his hog farm operation.

Whether or not Franklin County will convene its own Environmental Impact Committee is yet to be seen, but Judge Bowman previously stated he is against an industrial hog farm locating in Franklin County. He also stressed that he had no prior knowledge of the hog farm when he fixed a flood drainage problem on Coon Tree Road and Plum Street earlier in the year due to a request by a landowner who provided the shale.

Bowman also previously said he has “absolutely no interest in bringing a commercial hog farm to Franklin County. I am against anything that will affect the well-being and quality of life of our residents and will do my best to keep our environment safe.” However, he also noted there is not much he can do since the County does not have an ordinance limiting a land-owner’s rights. “I support and respect a land owner’s right to do what he wants on his property, but I personally hope the hog farm goes elsewhere.”

Interested citizens are encouraged to speak with their elected county representatives to voice their opinions about Coon Tree Farm; both pro and con.

The next Franklin County Quorum Court meeting is 7 pm on Thursday, August 16 at the Ozark Courthouse.