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Hog Farmers Unfazed by Hog Rules

by 5m Editor
5 January 2009, at 7:09am

US - A ban on hog waste lagoons became permanent with the start of 2009, but the long-awaited environmental measure may go largely unnoticed.

The law prohibits hog producers from building new open-air ponds, or waste lagoons, to capture solid and liquid hog waste and bans farmers from expanding existing lagoons. But with the economy in a recession, hog producers cannot afford to expand.

"We’re just in survival mode right now," said Angie Whitener, policy and communications director for the North Carolina Pork Council.

"No, the new law won’t be a burden because there’s not anybody out there right now who’s expanding or building new farms with the economic conditions the way they are," she said.

According to FayObserver.com, the law prohibits new open-air hog waste lagoons and has measures intended to entice farmers to experiment with new methods of disposing or recycling hog waste. The law was passed in 2007, but it took state regulators additional time to draft the rules, which took effect Thursday.

The ban on hog lagoons also imposes stronger environmental standards designed to minimize air and water pollution, as well as the spread of pathogens. It also is intended to control the odor from more than 10 million hogs on farms across the state, mostly in the east.

North Carolina — the country’s second leading hog-production state — has more than 2,300 hog farms, which produce tons of solid and liquid waste that is captured and stored in open-air lagoons.

The method was questioned in June 1995, when an 8-acre holding pond on an Onslow County farm failed, flooding surrounding land and waterways with 22 million gallons of swine waste. A failure at a Sampson County farm the same day sent 1 million gallons of waste into the Cape Fear River, which is a drinking water source for many cities, including Fayetteville.

The law requires new waste management systems to eliminate the discharge of animal waste to surface and groundwater and to eliminate the release of ammonia and other odors beyond the boundaries of the farm. It does not require farmers to replace existing hog waste lagoons.

Also included in the legislation were provisions to encourage farmers to seek new environmentally friendly ways to rid their farms of hog waste. It provides incentives for farmers to capture methane gas from hog waste and convert it to electricity.

Whitener said the incentives are unappealing and the pilot program remains untested.

“The early models are very expensive and there’s not anybody who can afford them," she said. "I think there has been three grants awarded so far, and one of those has already been abandoned."

Whitener added: "It still has a ways to go."