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Long, often contentious, CAFO case comes to conclusionPosted Tuesday, November 9, 2010, at 6:18 PM
Although it is very important, it seemed to happen without notice or fanfare.
In late August the Arrow Rock hog suit came to end after the Missouri Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal.
The "issue" or as it turned out -- "non-issue" -- began in October 2007, when Hardeman-area farmer Dennis Gessling applied for -- and meeting all the regulations -- was approved for, a permit to build two hog buildings on farm ground he owned in eastern Saline County.
However, the proposed hog buildings soon became a big stink between Gessling, some neighbors and supporters of Arrow Rock, an historic landmark town, state park and tourist attraction two miles from his farm.
The fight soon became state and national news, and at one point, he and his family received death threats.
With all the battles going on, and probably unwilling to risk his farm's financial security on such a volatile situation, Gessling never started the buildings.
But that didn't stop a group from Arrow Rock, who filed a suit in Cole County to stop his CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) from being built.
On Aug. 25, 2008, area farmers (and maybe even those who filed the suit) were shocked when a Cole County judge ruled in favor of the opponents and specified a 15-mile buffer zone around state historic sites in which CAFOs cannot be permitted and cannot operate.
In the lawsuit's conclusion, Joyce seemed to rule that any CAFO within a 15-mile radius of the historic village and other nearby historic sites could no longer "spread, transport or dispose" of any manure from their operation.
If upheld it would have put many area farmers out of business. However, a few days later after consulting with lawyers, the Missouri Department of Agriculture helped calm fears by telling area farmers the ruling only applies to the defendants actually named in the lawsuit: the Department of Natural Resources, DNR Director Doyle Childers and the proposed CAFO. Later, Joyce herself narrowed the buffer zone to just two miles away.
In October of 2009, Attorney General Chris Koster filed an appeal of the ruling and on April 6, 2010, the Missouri Courts of Appeals overturned Judge Joyce's ruling.
Afterwards Koster, who is in favor of buffer zones around parks and historical sites, said, "However, creation of such buffer zones is the province of the legislature and not the courts. Our agriculture system would grind to a halt if every judge were allowed to set their own personal boundary lines around every Missouri farm."
So in the end, the ruling turned out to be a victory for agriculture, striking Joyce's ruling off the books so it cannot be used to force farmers -- who are following the law -- out of business. It also means that if someone wants to make new laws they will have to do it through the legislature.
The good part of the ordeal is that Gessling was able to move on and buy an existing hog facility in the area. It has operated, just as his original facility, without any neighbor complaints.
And that proves the problem with the original ruling.
It was just assumed that the proposed buildings would be a problem. Gessling was pre-judged by the small minority of bad actors in his profession.
Although it is a "sigh of relief" to Gessling that the ruling was overturned, he said that more education is needed to save others from a similar situation.
With so many people so far removed from agriculture, that education is much more important than ever. A look at the map from the recent voting on Prop B clearly illustrates the difference between those who actually know how animals are raised and those whose only reference is the Internet or television.
I think Gessling's situation is the perfect example of why we need to speak up before it is too late. He wanted to expand his operation so that someday his young son might have the chance to farm with him.
In agriculture, we don't set our prices for what we sell or what we buy. Expansion is usually the only way to add another family member. Many generations of young people have moved to the city because they haven't had the chance to farm.
We can't afford to lose any more family farmers. If Gessling hadn't been able to find another operation, then that opportunity would have been lost for his family -- and for our county.
However, those hogs would have been raised somewhere -- perhaps by a large corporation in a foreign country.
Is that what we want? Is that where we want our food raised?
If we don't -- and I know I don't -- then the time is now to speak up and tell somebody the true and very positive story of modern agriculture.
Let's get to it.
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