On a Sierra Club-sponsored tour of local concentrated animal feeding operations, the one near Forest Hill got some attention.
“That was one of the worst I’ve smelled,” said Joe Maxwell, a Missouri hog farmer, former lieutenant governor and a U.S. Humane Society official.
And he has toured industrial farming sites all over the world.
The tour was part of a “Less=More” program made up of Sierra Club members as well as farmers, food safety organizations, environmental and welfare groups who believe there is “an unfair bias toward factory farms.”
At a short program at the Alma Public Library before the tour Wednesday, Anne Woiwoide, Michigan Sierra Club president, said the group is not making claims of illegal activities. The focus instead is on unfairness.
The group wants to encourage both the state and federal governments not to support what she called “polluting factory farms.”
“These farms are receiving your tax dollar support,” she said.
She cited a dairy farm that’s located in both Gratiot and Midland counties, and which has subsidiary farms.
“From 2001 to 2012, they received $744,941 in federal farm subsidies and tax subsidized loans of $5 million,” according to a written statement from the Sierra Club.
Small farms cannot compete with that kind of financial assistance.
Yet even though the Midland/Gratiot farm received the subsidies, it was fined by two different agencies for about $45,000 related to five separate incidents.
Some of those incidents included discharge of wastes into county drains, improper storage of wastes, and stockpiling of wastes near a road.
It was also pointed out that a CAFO can generate millions of gallons of waste – enough to equal a city of 16,000 people - but the farms, unlike cities, aren’t required to treat the waste. And that waste can include antibiotics, chemicals, pathogens and other contaminants.
In Gratiot and Midland counties there are 24 CAFOs. Since 1996, 14 have been cited for environmental violations.
On the tour, Maxwell said that CAFOs, especially those run by people from out of the country, “deplete the wealth of the community.”
He said that studies have shown that the resources and profits are taken out of the community and that there is a loss of business. He spoke of two neighboring counties. One allowed CAFOs and one did not. The one that did, floundered.
CAFOs began with Tyson Foods and his chickens, he said. Farmers are told to get big or “we won’t buy from you,” he said.
“But there is an alternative,” he said. “Which one is most profitable and sustainable and doesn’t cost the taxpayers?”
Farms can reach of point in size when it is no longer effective, he said.
But women are helping to change things, he said, since 14 percent who run farms are now women. And he cited an example in North Carolina, which included women farmers. They took some tobacco settlement money and began a sustainable agriculture program.
Lynn Henning, an employee of the Sierra Club and environmental prize winner, also provided some insight into the damages done to Michigan’s water.
She looked at the number of animals on each farm - well into the thousands - how much waste is produced and where that waste goes.
She also talked about the amount of water used. At one farm in the Midland/Gratiot group of dairy farms, 122,000 gallons are needed each day.
“There is concern that there are too many wells,” she said.
Too many wells can affect the surface and ground water.
For more information, you may visit www.MoreforMichigan.org
No one from the Gratiot agricultural community was present and one MSU Extension office agent who asked to be included in the tour was denied.
Linda Gittleman may be reached at 989-463-6071, email@example.com or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/lgittleman.