By Rick Fromm
By Rick Fromm

     I’m a Midwestern boy/man-child and proud of it. The residents of the east and west coasts are subject to every new thing that comes down the pike, but not us in the tried-and-true Midwest.

By the time new “fads” reach Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota and all the rest, they have withstood the rigors of extreme scrutiny and are not just some fly-by-night, hair-brain idea that will not be sustainable in the long run. That’s a fact, and I’m sticking to it.

I grew up in Illinois for the majority of my first 18 years on this glorious planet called Earth. Since then I’ve resided in Iowa for just about all of the next 50 years. Hence, I consider myself a Hawkeye, or Cyclone, or Panther, or Norseman or however you want to describe it.

So, in reality, I’m an Iowa guy through and through and I couldn’t be prouder about that. Iowa is the epitome of a “cool” state in my opinion, and those who think otherwise are just jealous they don’t reside here. That’s a rather grandiose, even arrogant, statement but there’s a lot of truth in its premise. I suppose the residents of Badger and Gopher land feel the exact same way. Good for them.

I have to be honest when I say I’m worried – real worried – about my beloved homeland and what the future may hold in store. Why? Because the expansion of factory-farm operations – in particular hog confinement operations -- is threatening the stability of our state and is slowly eroding the things that make this land between the rivers so special.

Yes, I realize Iowa is an “agricultural” state that depends on the ag industry a great deal to sustain its economy. However, that doesn’t mean we’re increasing our ag-based growth in the right way in order to preserve our beautiful quality of life. In fact, at this point in time, just the opposite seems true.

I’m not a scientific expert on the subject, but I have read reams of material about the growing number of factory farms in Iowa and how they are negatively affecting our quality of life … and, apparently, all for the sake of the all-mighty dollar. Those who play the “industrialized farming” game can get rich in short order. Those who don’t … well, good luck.

Want some theories to back up my rantings? Here are a few I’ve gleaned from a variety of sources:

• There are 13,000-plus hog confinements in Iowa. The state used to say there were 8,000 until they were forced by environmental groups to actually count them. It is not as though farmers had a choice in using this confinement technology. Pig farmers only did what the corporate industrial ag people (most confinements are corporate owned, not farmer owned), the land grant colleges like Iowa State and Extension Service told them to do.

•  In September, the state said we had 22.9 million pigs in Iowa at any one time, and it’s expected to increase to 30 million.

• Unfortunately, according to some experts, the technology cannot be fixed to be non-polluting. This technology (poorly designed and poorly operating wastewater anaerobic digest transferred into the industrial ag section without the regulations and protections for the public’s health) along with fecal waste produces poison sewer gasses that must be vented out into neighborhoods otherwise the pigs inside will die. Those gasses and antibiotic-resistant organisms will impact neighbors’ health and the larger environment.

 • Iowa is losing a significant amount of recreation dollars each year to Minnesota and Wisconsin. The quality of air and water is being destroyed. Infrastructure – rural roads – are being destroyed. Quality of life for those who live near these operations is being destroyed. Not to mention how the value of people’s property plummets when confinements move next door.

• According to an article in the Des Moines Register, the industrial confinement system is an equal-opportunity offender. There’s reason for worry about environmental impacts, water quality, inhumane animal practices, antibiotic overuse, quality of life, property rights, market concentration and health effects on workers and neighbors.

• Under the current system, the few are benefitting at the expense of many.

Few pigs are owned and raised by farmers. Few of the confinements are “owned” by the people who own the pigs. Determining responsibility is a shell game — by design. Economists are enamored by the system for its supposed “efficiencies,” but fail to recognize that the way pigs are raised can have major impacts on local economies.

Combine those rather alarming statistics with the fact that – under our current governmental system – it’s just about impossible to open a 10,000 head confinement operation but a relatively simple matter to operate five 2,000-head operations instead, and it’s a simple matter to surmise the industrial ag problem has gotten out of hand.

What can we do to save our cherished state? Good question. Answers are welcome – and needed.