Bentley: Hog farmers work hard, use latest technology to control odor
Editor's note: This is the second in a two-part series about local farmer and pork producer, David Bentley. See the first part at http://www.marshallnews.com/story/1454683.html or in the Thursday, Aug. 21. edition of The Marshall Democrat-News.
As a pork producer, just a mile from the Marshall city limits, David Bentley said he is very conscientious about following laws and minimizing odor.
"Every morning when I walk out of my house I smell the air. I'm more conscious of it than my neighbors," he said.
However, even living so close to city limits, Bentley has never had anyone complain to him about the smell from his operation.
Bentley, his wife, Christi, and daughter, Sarah, 11, live across the road from the family hog operation. His parents, Lloyd and Rosie, live on the same farm they have since 1960, their back door just a few hundred feet from the hog buildings.
His father first built a farrowing house and began raising hogs there shortly after moving in. They have added more buildings since that time and until 2000 ran a 140-sow farrow-to-finish operation.
Bentley now raises hogs from wean to finish on contract to MFA Inc. He is also a substitute rural mail carrier and grows corn and soybeans and wheat.
His wife works part-time as a secretary at their church, Covenant Presbyterian, sells Close to My Heart products, teaches piano lessons and is a also substitute teacher.
Since his father first started the hog operation, many homes and businesses have built up around the farm. During last year's Farm Bureau Good Neighbor Tour of area hog facilities, Bentley joked to the crowd of farmers, business people, legislators, members of the local media and Arrow Rock residents that he was all for setbacks.
"Setbacks from my farm."
In fact, according to Bentley, there are now 55 houses within a mile of his operation, many brand new, and over 300 homes within two miles.
Also within that distance are two rest homes, a city park, the YMCA and several churches. Most of those were added after the Bentley's began their hog operation.
Bentley said he doesn't do anything different from most pork producers.
The Bentleys do have cedar trees planted around the buildings, which filter the smell, and they use new technologies "when they come around."
"I don't do anything different, almost all hog farmers do the exact same thing," he said. "There is no secret."
Bentley and his parents also keep their farm and grounds "looking nice," which he said can give the "perception" of less smell.
"If you didn't see my hog operation, you might not know I have a hog operation," he said.
Bentley said that as far as odor goes, lagoons are usually the biggest source. In Missouri, most of the buildings built in recent years use deep concrete pits, eliminating lagoons.
He has both technologies on his farm.
"If you don't have lagoons, the odor issue is a non-issue," he said.
Although Bentley is not required by law to be "permitted" by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), all the same laws regulate him.
"Just because you don't have to have a permit, you still have to follow all the laws," he said, adding the DNR can come and require a confinement operation to have a permit any time.
Among those laws is that not one drop of "discharge" from his hogs is allowed to go anywhere other than farm fields.
He pumps the manure periodically from the pits and lagoon and "knives" the manure into the ground, fertilizing his fields and some of his neighbors', all at the appropriate rates.
"You have to keep records of how much you put on a field and the crops you grow," he said. "I don't have to do the paperwork and report to DNR like you do if you are permitted, but because I think it is the right thing to do, I have all the records.
"I'm a mile from the city limits and you just do what's right, that's the way I was taught," he said. "So I've gone above and beyond what is required."
The manure is a better fertilizer than chemical fertilizers, adding not only nitrogen, but also organic matter to the soil, according to Bentley.
"My neighbor loves to see me put manure on his crop," he said.
All of Bentley's hogs live inside buildings, as have most of the hogs raised on the farm for nearly 50 years.
"It is better for the pigs," he said. "My hogs are not hot, they are never cold. They have the best health care money can afford. They have the best nutrition," he said. "Most of the population on this planet would give whatever they had to give to live as well as my hogs."
He said that living inside has helped the pigs perform better, by raising more babies and growing faster. It also helped farmers produce more pigs with less labor.
"You know that going inside has helped you out and it's helped them out," he said.
He said it has also helped the environment.
"Certainly, when it was sows or finishing pigs outside, you had no control of the manure," he said. "When you are inside and have facilities like we do now, we control every drop of manure."
Because of that he disputes some claims that modern livestock farms cause harm.
"There is no environmental harm from raising hogs, he said. "There is a certain amount of odor."
However, Bentley thinks the odor is worse too, with pigs outside.
"Two hundred sows on a dirt lot smell worse than 40,000 in a building," he said.
Acknowledging that today's hog farms are sometimes referred to as "factory farms" he said that he agrees on one level.
"When you are talking about efficiencies, productivity and things like that, fine -- that's exactly what we are doing," he said.
"But the anti-people when they put factory farms in a negative content, saying, 'it's people who don't care, it's people who just come in doing a job,' that's offensive to me because that's not how it is. Anyone who has ever worked a hog farm or had anything to do with raising livestock -- they know better," he said.
"In animal agriculture it has got to be more than just a job," he said. "I am raising live animals and I care about those live animals."
In Missouri, the number of hog farmers has dropped 90 percent: from 23,000 in 1985 to 2,200 in 2004, according to the Missouri Rural Crisis Center.
However, Bentley, confirming that there are other jobs he could do that pay more, said that he and the others still in the hog business today enjoy what they do.
"I love raising hogs. I always have," he said. "Farming and raising hogs is the only thing I ever wanted to do."
In the end, he said, Americans need to decide where they want their food raised and who they want raising it, American family farmers like himself or "somebody in South America which has no environmental laws and no regulations on livestock or anything else."
He said that America's pork producers are still raising good, high quality food.
"It's safe, it's cheap and there is plenty of it," he said. "We try to raise pretty good pork chops."
Contact Marcia Gorrell at firstname.lastname@example.org