Guest View: Too much manure, and not enough political will

By Mark Kuhn, Supervisor, Floyd County

I was one of 12 legislators who met to draft a bill overhauling Iowa’s confined livestock regulations in February 2002, when a new idea called the “Master Matrix” was first introduced.

The idea that became law 16 years ago is the scoring system that gives counties a voice when large confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are proposed.

Here are the Top 10 ways to improve the Master Matrix

1) Require a higher minimum passing score.

2) Increase the separated distance between CAFOs and schools, homes, public use areas, waterbodies and drinking water wells.

3) Allow counties to protect unique characteristics that pose a threat to groundwater, such as Karst topography in Floyd County and northeast Iowa.

4) Add questions that mitigate Iowa’s 750 impaired waterbodies, including parts of the Cedar and Shell Rock rivers in Floyd County.

5) Increase the time a county has from receiving a Master Matrix application to making a recommendation to the Iowa DNR from 30 days to 60.

6) Require that both the applicant and the company responsible for preparing the applicant’s Master Matrix application attend the public hearing to answer questions about the proposed CAFO. Under current rules, neither is required to attend the public hearing, which leads to misinformation, distrust and battles between livestock producers, their neighbors and the board of supervisors.

7) Add questions to incentivize practices that reduce dangerous ammonia and hydrogen sulfide air emissions from CAFOs.

8) Allow counties a one-time enrollment in the Master Matrix, rather than the current requirement that counties must re-adopt the Master Matrix every year.

9) Reduce the threshold for construction permits from 1,000 animal units to 500 animal units. This would close the loophole commonly used by the pork industry to build barns with a capacity of 2,499 head, just one hog short of the permit threshold.

10) Enable counties to collect a Master Matrix review fee to offset the cost of significant staff time during the review process. The cost of the review should be paid by the CAFO applicant, and not be subsidized by county taxpayers.

It was supposed to protect neighbors from health

Mark Kuhn
Mark Kuhn

risks and the environment from pollution by requiring livestock producers to adopt practices greater than the minimum required by state law.

In reality, the Master Matrix is easy to pass and amounts to little more than a rubber stamp.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources (Iowa DNR) records show only 2 percent of all applications have ever been denied.

After retiring from the Iowa House in 2010, I’ve served seven years on the Floyd County Board of Supervisors reviewing Master Matrix applications and listening to the concerns of neighbors who are fed up with a system that allows producers to score only 50 percent of possible points to get a passing grade.

An analysis of the Master Matrix by the Iowa DNR revealed that many questions pertaining to separated distances from residences and waterbodies are so easy to score points on nearly every application does.

Other questions requiring air and water quality monitoring or the installation of filters to reduce odors are never answered.

The Master Matrix is a pass-fail test that has failed Iowans. It hasn’t been tweaked even once in 16 years. It is out of date and needs to be reviewed for many reasons.

Hog wild: Major expansion
ahead spells trouble

Prior to the Master Matrix in 2001, there were 722 large DNR-permitted CAFOs in Iowa. Today, there are more than 3,000.

Iowa CAFOs produce over 10 billion gallons of untreated manure each year. That’s 100 times more than the amount of human feces produced in Iowa and treated at wastewater facilities.

Ever wonder why Iowa isn’t making any progress reducing the 750 impaired waterbodies in our state? Connect the dots.

Hold your nose and pass the bottled water, because Iowa is on the verge of another major swine expansion. An unprecedented increase in packing plant capacity will likely result in an onslaught of CAFOs in Iowa.

Last September, Seaboard Triumph Foods opened a plant in Sioux City where it slaughters 10,500 hogs per day with plans to add a second shift to increase the kill to twice that number.

Prestage Foods plans to open its plant near Eagle Grove in Wright County in November 2018 and start processing 10,000 hogs a day.

The vast majority of hogs needed to fill this record growth will come from Iowa.

“What is really driving the expansion are the new packing plants coming online,” said Jeff Hansen, owner of Iowa Select Farms, in a recent article in Successful Farming magazine. Iowa Select added 36,000 sows in 2017, its first sow expansion in 12 years.

It should come as no surprise that Iowa Select Farms is also adding more finishing barns. Iowa’s largest pork producer recently submitted applications for 20 new or expanding CAFOs that would add almost 90,000 hogs, with the majority of those applications located in counties surrounding the new Prestage Foods packing plant.

According to Iowa State University’s manure estimator, Iowa Select Farms expansion could add another 37.8 million gallons of manure to Iowa’s already polluted landscape.

And that’s the problem.

— In the Feb. 8 Charles City Press I’ll review a fair and balanced bill in the Legislature that would be a first step toward resolving this contentious issue.