|INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Rural Indiana residents have complained for years about the stench and dust wafting from the state’s largest livestock farms - concerns reflected in several bills this legislative session aimed at tightening the farms’ regulation.
As lawmakers debate that legislation, however, records show that state regulators are approving the sprawling, factory-style farms at a record rate.
Last year alone, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management approved 106 of the very largest of these farms, clearing the way for more than 2.4 million animals at new farms, according to IDEM records reviewed by The Associated Press.
Those 106 farms are the largest number of concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, the department has approved in a single year since it began giving them separate approval in 2003 from smaller farms.
In fact, last year’s CAFO approvals represent more than the agency endorsed in the previous three years combined, records show.
Sandra Flum, the department’s director of intergovernmental affairs, said the agency saw a “significant increase” last year in applications to build new livestock farms, with those requests rising from about 120 in 2005 to about 160 last year.
“We were much busier last year processing permits and getting approvals together,” she said.
Deb Abbott, a spokeswoman for the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, said the increase in CAFOs - most of them hog farms - is due largely to strong market opportunities for producers.
But for many, the increase is worrisome.
Sen. Allen Paul, a Richmond Republican, said the CAFO surge is a top issue in his east-central Indiana district.
Many of his constituents are worried about falling property values, odors that can become overwhelming and manure runoff possibly reaching their well water, he said.
“There are a lot of people who feel we need to slow this system down and really make sure that we’re setting the right rules and doing the right thing by the environment,” said Paul, who sponsored a bill that would impose a three-year moratorium on construction of new CAFOs.
His bill never came to a vote in the Senate, but Paul said he’s hopeful some type of moratorium could be included in one of the livestock bills still alive in the General Assembly.
Lawmakers also are considering bills that would, among other things, boost permit fees to help pay for more frequent livestock farm inspections and require the farms to be at least a mile from cities, towns, schools and nursing homes.
Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock questions whether those measures are needed and said the state’s livestock industry is working to reach compromises with lawmakers.