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New state program promotes factory farms

(Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Paul Sobocinski, Pioneer Press op-ed, 01/23/03: In 1976, when I moved to Wabasso to start farming, the first enterprise I established on my farm was a farrow-to-finish swine operation. Redwood County must have been "livestock friendly." Come to think of it, Brown County must have been "livestock friendly" because it allowed me to raise pigs on my dad's farm in 1968 and 1969 for FFA.

But now we have Gene Hugoson, Minnesota's agriculture commissioner, trying to tell us and our county commissioners that we aren't "livestock friendly" unless we agree with his state-prescribed criteria for livestock development in our counties.

Perception is not the reality, once you open the nice sounding wrapper on this so-called "livestock friendly" program. You soon discover that the commissioner has sent us a program that can be more accurately described as "factory farm-friendly." He just wants to hoodwink counties into adopting this puff-of-paper program as a way to whitewash factory farms.


The proof that the state wants to take away our local control can be found in the very form its requires counties to fill out to apply for the "livestock friendly" county designation. A county must certify that it does not:

  • Impose absolute size limitations (animal unit caps) for feedlots.
  • Limit feedlot expansion or new construction.
  • Prohibit earthen basins for dairy manure.

The Agriculture Department application requires counties to attach relevant provisions of county codes and ordinances. According to the department Web site, the county must even provide documentation that it has conducted a planning effort and has developed ordinances that conform with the guidelines of the state.

So how did this process happen by which Hugoson can, through his department, undermine local control at the county level?

Last year, the Legislature passed a law that allowed the commissioner of agriculture to establish a process and criteria by which counties could be designated as "livestock friendly." In essence, the Legislature handed a tool to the commissioner that he is using to persuade counties to change their ordinances.

So now, what we really get in counties that fall for this new designation process are criteria by which the biggest of the big industrial factory farms will be welcomed into a county.

Do we need livestock in this state? Yes. We need livestock to be dispersed and owned by many family farmers in this state, not concentrated in a few mega-corporate, industrial feedlots.

I urge county taxpayers to call their county commissioners and tell them to keep local control and not to fall for this so-called "livestock friendly" county designation process.

I also urge citizens to call your state legislators and ask them to repeal the law that created this program.

If you don't want your county or neighborhood to look or smell like Renville County with its lagoons and earthen basins or be like Iowa where people lost control at the county level, you need to act. Sobocinski (e-mail: sobopaul@rconnect.com) is a livestock farmer in Wabasso and a member of the Land Stewardship Project, a sustainable agriculture group.

See the op-ed at http://www.twincities.com/mld/pioneerpress/news/editorial/5007494.htm