Two men running successful alternative agriculture businesses are urging legislators to impose new restrictions on large-scale livestock confinements. Paul Willis of Thornton, in north central Iowa, manages the Niman Ranch Pork Company which feeds hogs a mixture of corn and soybeans, but lets the animals run on grass pastures rather than putting them in pens. Willis is opposed to the concept of confinement feeding of livestock.
"There’s got to be a better way to do things," he says. "…It’s not about…getting bigger or getting out. It’s about the people and the quality of life in the state of Iowa." Willis supports the legislation which would force livestock confinements to be built farther away from nearby homes or tourist attractions, but Willis also suggests it’s time to think about an end to large-scale livestock production.
"It’s sort of like entering the war in Iraq without an exit plan," Willis says. "The exit plan is not here and we really have to change some things and have a way of (raising animals) a better way." Willis says the goal should be to have the "least impact" on the environment and large-scale operations with their manure lagoons don’t fit that model. "…I have pigs right across the road from my neighbor’s house and there is no smell. They actually enjoy having the pigs out there because they’re running around in the pasture and they’re entertaining," Willis says. "They appear to be enjoying being a pig."
Niman Ranch provides pork chops and other pork products to 1,500 restaurants as well as other distributors. Niman pork comes from over 500 farms in Iowa and neighboring states, including Willis’ operation where he raises about 2,500 hogs annually.
Francis Thicke owns and operates Radiance Dairy near Fairfield. It’s a "grass-based, organic dairy" where all the milk, yogurt and cheese is processed on the farm. The products are sold in grocery stores and restaurants in the Fairfield/Jefferson County area. Thicke went to the capitol for several reasons.
"One real, pertinent reason is my neighbor a mile and a half upwind from me has proposed to build a 4800 head hog confinement building," Thicke says. "The prevailing winds all winter will blow (the smell) into my house and so I’m concerned about that, but I’ve been concerned about this issue anyway because I think there are better ways to raise animals than raising them in confinement."
He doesn’t expect the smell to impact his dairy products, the milk, the cheese, the yogurt that’s the processed on his farm. "Probably more of a quality of life thing," Thicke says of the smell. "I guess I’ll have to see if the cows turn up their noses at it or not." Thicke and Willis were at the statehouse today, lobbying lawmakers.