Supervisors: matrix needs updates

As Labor Day approaches, signaling the closing phase of the election cycle and the subject matter for the next state legislative session begins to formulate, we believe now is the time to address the updating of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources matrix application for the siting of new concentrated animal feeding operations.

In order to have a constructive matrix discussion, we believe it is necessary to acknowledge three general points:

First — Confinement feeding operations have a significant positive financial impact on the county they are located in and the state in general. The construction of a new hog, chicken or turkey barn can often be connected to bringing home a son or daughter to a family farming operation. The majority of farmers with confinement operations care about their neighbors and the environment that they make their living in.

Second — We have reached a “quality of life” tipping point in the areas of the state that for a variety of reasons have the highest concentrations of confinement feeding operations. We are running out of dead end gravel roads. Acreage owners and smaller communities are feeling pressure from new hog barns in particular, moving increasingly closer to their property lines bringing odor, increased traffic and concerns over water and air quality.

Third — A “moratorium” on new confinement feeding operations solves nothing. It simply puts off addressing the issue. The legislature, with the governor’s support, must move now to update the matrix application and process.

Recommendation number one is obvious, Iowans have the perfect opportunity between now and election day to ask legislative and gubernatorial candidates if they would support updating the matrix. However the candidate answers, it is critical that the question be asked — letting the candidate know that this is an issue that can no longer be ignored. Of course it is going to take leadership in both the House and Senate to “sign on” to make anything happen. That is why having the governor’s support is so important. The governor can help lead the way.

While it takes legislative action and the governor’s signature to actually update the matrix, the other key component is producers. Our second recommendation is that producers should form a work group now, before the election, made up of large and small producers across pork, beef and poultry. Relevant researchers and authorities from the School of Agriculture at Iowa State University and the School of Medicine at the University of Iowa matched with appropriate staff from Iowa DNR should round out the group. The addition of other interest groups should be resisted. They will have opportunity to inject their points during the legislative process. With a relatively small but focused group, a practical and fact based framework of matrix changes and clarifications could be created and delivered to the legislature by opening day of the 2019 session. Without a framework created and agreed to by a majority of producers, the legislature is not likely to take meaningful action on its own. In fact, under pressure to take action and without direction from producers, the easiest action to take could be passing a moratorium.

We are under no illusion that this is an easy task for producers to undertake. Currently there is little interest on the part of producers to open this can of worms. That has been made clear to us numerous times over the last couple years.

Recent legislatures and governors have had no desire to take up this issue or even acknowledge that there is an issue, but an examination of the matrix is now well overdue. The tension in the countryside between small operators, large operators, landowners, small communities and acreage owners, matched with the environmental impact in areas of high concentration, has rose to a level that can no longer be overlooked.

We don’t have the answers, though we know that with a dedicated and honest effort they can begin to be found. Voters need to press candidates and producers need to take the lead in recommending meaningful, researched-based changes and clarifications.

Doug Bailey, Dan Campidilli and David Young serve on the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors.

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