State Line Farms: Neighbors complain about odors 2004.09.22

Written by David Green.

By DAVID GREEN

Floyd McVay says he isn’t opposed to farming. He just doesn’t like a pair of 2,000 head hog barns located about 100 yards from his front door.

“We’ve got to have farmers,” he told Michigan Department of Agriculture (MDA) representative Kristin Linderman at a meeting Sept. 10.

“That’s why we developed the GAAMPs,” Linderman said, referring to her agency’s Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices that serve as a guideline for farmers to follow.

The problem for McVay is that the GAAMPs are voluntary. The owners of the operation across from his Ridgeville Road house chose not to follow the GAAMP guidelines for siting when the facility was constructed.

Linderman visited State Line Farms before meeting with a small group of citizens at the John and Peggy Zachel residence, across from the swine barns on M-156.

According to the GAAMPs, a facility of State Line’s size should be located at least half a mile from non-farm residences and 600 feet from the property line. Neither of those guidelines was followed—which is perfectly legal, Linderman pointed out. However, by not conforming to the GAAMPs, the operation loses its “nuisance protection” through the state’s Right to Farm law and is subject to civil lawsuits from citizens.

She added later that the facility might lose its Right to Farm protection, since it would be up to the presiding judge if a suit were to be filed.

Linderman said that State Line Farms will fulfill the requirements for certification through the Department of Agriculture’s Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (MAEAP), as required by law, by Sept. 1, 2005.

For large farms, this process includes development of comprehensive nutrient management plan that outlines manure handling. The plan must receive third party verification through the MDA.

McVay spoke of the disparity between residential and agricultural facilities.

“If I were to put in a house, I have to have 10 acres,” he said in reference to township regulations governing agricultural land. “Putting in 4,000 head buildings 100 yards from my house is a hell of lot worse than building a house on two acres.”

Again, Linderman referred to the GAAMPS.

“He [Gary Gallup] chose not to do that so it’s out of our hands,” she said. “We have no right to stop him.”

Linderman said that the location of the barns “may or may not be in the correct place” and that it was never determined through a siting procedure.

Linderman’s visit to the farm resulted from an odor complaint made by a neighbor, however, she found no odor violation. Her follow-up letter stated the facility was managed in conformance with the GAAMPs relating to manure management and utilization. A previous odor investigation by the MDA also found no violations.

Complaints about odor are handled by the MDA, Linderman said. Her agency can chose to refer the matter to the DEQ for enforcement, but the first step is to try and make changes.

Trees have been planted around the facility, she said, and more will be added. McVay agreed that trees have some filtering effect, but not enough.

Linderman said that farm owner Gary Gallup is looking for odor control advice from Michigan State University and she will seek some information from the University of Minnesota.

She said farm owners are looking into some costly alternatives, such as biofilters, but from what she’s read, those devices haven’t yet been proven effective. If a reliable, affordable method were available, she said, it would be widely used.

Concern was also expressed about pesticide use and the possible drift onto neighboring property. A person living near a field blamed pesticide drift for causing illness, but the MDA ruled there was insufficient evidence.

Questions were also asked about the application of manure on sandy soil with a shallow water table—as close to the surface as 10 feet in some areas. It was stated that at least one resident in the area draws drinking water from a well that’s only 18 feet deep.

“Why not stop it [contamination] before it happens rather than trying to clean it up later?” asked Neil Hinkley.

Seneca Township supervisor Kiel Plummer asked why the health department isn’t involved, but Linderman said that agency has no authority.

“Who does?” Hinkley asked, suggesting that a lot of buck passing goes on.

If wells were to become contaminated, Linderman said, the health department would address the issue in conjunction with the DEQ.

Large scale

“I understand your frustration,” Linderman said. I wish there was some magical solution I could give you.”

She suggested making zoning changes if people don’t want agriculture in their neighborhood, but residents said they aren’t opposed to farming.

“That’s not regular farming, it’s factory farming,” said John Zachel, who once raised as many as 15,000 turkeys on his own farm.

That’s the way of society, answered Linderman, with so many businesses operating on a larger scale.

That’s obvious to Floyd McVay and he doesn’t like how the little guy is left behind. As he sees it, agencies such as the Michigan Department of Agriculture are on the side of the big farms and he’s left on his own.

• Rural residents can obtain assistance with well testing through the Home*A*Syst program. Information is available through the county conservation district office by calling 517/265-5887.

 

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