Concerns raised over hog farming

Speakers urge state to fight big operations

March 14, 1999|By Heather Dewar | Heather Dewar,SUN STAFF

EMMITSBURG -- Alarmed by the sudden appearance in Maryland of a few big factory-style hog farms, some residents fear the state is about to be besieged, as others have, with noxious smells, tainted rain and water pollution.

At a 1960s-style teach-in at Mount St. Mary's College in Frederick County yesterday, speakers from as far as North Carolina and Iowa urged about 125 listeners to fight big agribusiness.

But in this part of the world, agribusiness is the farmer next door. And so far, the struggle is more like a family feud.

Rural homeowners say big hog farms are ruining their health and their dreams of country life. Farmers say falling prices for farm products are pushing them to the edge of bankruptcy. To hold onto their land, the farmers say, it's not surprising that some are willing to raise hogs in football-field-sized barns under contract to big corporations.

One Frederick County farmer, Rodney Harbaugh, touched off a controversy last summer when he began raising 4,000 hogs in two large barns along scenic Rocky Ridge. He started the operation without getting a required state pollution control permit, which he has since applied for, and without local government oversight.

Harbaugh's operation is believed to be the largest hog farm in Maryland. Two other farms, in Kent County and the Frederick County community of Foxville, each raise 2,000 hogs. In Carroll County, another farmer plans to raise 2,000 hogs near an exclusive Westminster subdivision.

Harbaugh was not at yesterday's meeting. But his next-door neighbor, Karen Kuhn, had plenty to say about the changes at his 60-acre farm. Kuhn, a 22-year resident of Rocky Ridge, suffers from asthma and heart problems. She said the smells from Harbaugh's operation have forced her to triple her medication and stay indoors.

"I can no longer work in my flower garden," Kuhn said at yesterday's meeting, sponsored by the Maryland Sierra Club. "I can't have a barbecue in my yard. I can't sit on my front porch and have a glass of iced tea. I'm a prisoner in my own home."

Listening in the audience was Harold Burrier, 60, a dairy farmer in nearby Mount Pleasant.

"I'd like to hear the man's side of the story," said Burrier as he left to milk his 100 cows. "I understand that farmer is trying to survive."

Milk prices have fallen from $16 to $10 per 100 pounds, Burrier said, and grain prices have also fallen sharply. Burrier works a second job as a trucker, hauling grain and soybeans to the port of Baltimore.

"It's keeping the farm going -- been that way about 10 years," he said. "The farmer is not making the profit. It's the middleman."

Burrier said he would shut down his farm before turning to large-scale hog-raising. But in Virginia, more than 50 farmers have made the opposite choice in the past five years, said environmental activist Linda Hagenau.

"We have a new name for them," Hagenau said. "It's actually an old name: sharecroppers."

About 90 percent of the state's 380,000 hogs are raised for one company, she said.

In North Carolina, growers raise about 10 million hogs, said environmental activist Rick Dove. A 1995 manure spill from a hog waste lagoon killed more than 10 million fish in the Neuse River.

The big livestock operations have triggered a backlash. North Carolina officials have imposed a moratorium on new hog-raising operations. In South Dakota, voters passed a constitutional amendment last fall banning large corporations' involvement in new livestock operations.

On Tuesday, the Frederick County commissioners will vote on a countywide moratorium on new hog farms with more than 1,000 animals. The measure, which passed unanimously on first reading, would be the first such moratorium in Maryland. Speakers urged local residents yesterday to push for a statewide ban.

"This is not an individual county's problem," said Hagenau. "You are dealing with a large, decentralized factory. It will flow to the easiest place available."

Pub Date: 3/14/99

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