Unit 11 - 2 Dairy Ave.
Friday, January 18, 2002
Hog Farms Need Huge Attention From
By Bob Trottier
We see stories in the paper all the time and I've read nothing but bad about them. What are they? Huge barns. Imagine a barn large enough for 9000 weaner pigs. It will be the largest in the world according to Renatus Boerkamp, the farmer who is planning the operation. He has the earth movers on his land now ready to start building.
He has a permit and can't wait to get started. he also has neighbours. His neighbours are apprehensive. They are worried. Some, who live three or four kilometres away, are trying to stop him but their efforts may be in vain because the building permit is perfectly legal. The land is zoned for agriculture and a pig barn, no matter how large, is an agricultural use.
Provincial legislation is late coming. A new act to regulate agricultural expansion was supposed to have been passed late last fall but those who are studying the problem are having trouble coming to grips with all the ramifications. Some farmers with big money to back them are hastening to build big barns before the act becomes law.
Karen Doehn and her husband live across the road from the proposed barn, They have a vegetable farm and are justifiably worried. I mean 9000 pigs can raise a helluva stink. They can foul the air and the ground and the water with effluent if the operation is not properly built and maintained. Water samples, a fact sheet prepared by the residents in the area, says nitrate levels are close to maximum and nearby properties include wetlands.
So, here we go again, trying to solve the problems between urban and rural residents. All residents in this country have the right to live in their homes free from outside nuisances such as foul air and water. At the same time, we all have to eat. It is a habit we picked up when we were mewling and puking in our mothers' arms. The farmer has a legal right to raise hogs to feed people.
The single most important question here is: How big is too big? Should agricultural operations be allowed unlimited expansion rights? If not, how much is too much? The new legislation talks about 'units' and what should constitute a unit and how much manure does a unit produce and how much effluent can the lands absorb? These questions are begging for an answer and there are hundreds, perhaps thousands of people searching for those answers.
This corner has suggested a few answers during the last few months but I'm a little prejudiced. I like farmers, I like farming.
However, I have been a advocate of the family farm and I still look with a jaundiced eye at the so-called 'factory' farms, the ones where most of the biggest barns are built.
Most of these barns - not all of them, mind you, are managed by non-owners who live far from the barn. Some don't care about neighbours. Are they really farmers or hired staff? I do not know the answers and those in charge of the legislation are having great difficulties.
What many on the farm scene fear is that most of those working on the legislation know nothing about agriculture. Queen's Park is lousy with lawyers but how many have had manure on their boots?
And the Harris government has not been known to favour farmers; in fact, big business is their baby.
Some rural councils have put a temporary ban on pig-barn proposals hoping that the provincial laws will kick-in soon. As this is written, nothing new has come down from the province to answer the questions. Mind you, they might surprise all of us and come up with something to please all sides in this controversy but don't hold your breath.
The province should impose a moratorium on all new applications across the province which propose mega barns until the legislation is enacted. Then, of course, more time is needed to find enough qualified people to enforce the laws.
Citizens from Goderich to Ottawa, from Point Pelee to Parry Sound, are concerned and so they should be.