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Planning Commission Rejects Small Show-Pig CAFO Expansion; Owner Says Brown County Hates Livestock

The Brown County Planning Commission turned down two hog-CAFO-related applications Tuesday.

Wolff Family Genetics raises around 50 show pigs at a time. Owner Jeff Wolff wanted to expand his operation three miles north of Bath to hold “60 mature sows, two herd boards, 160 developing gilts and boars and 400 baby pigs“. Wolff also wanted a variance on the half-mile (2,640-foot) setback to allow building his new barns 2,300 feet from a neighboring residence. Brown County Commission chair and Planning Commission member Rachel Kippley, herself a farmer, explained her simple neighborly rationale for joining the 7–0 rejection of Wollf’s applications:

“There were four neighbors (and one commercial business) within the half-mile, and they only got two of the five to sign affidavits to go forward with it,” said Rachel Kippley, Brown County commission chairwoman.

…Kippley said it was a difficult decision for the planning commission.

“I know they all support ag. They wanted to find a way to allow those folks to do the show pigs they want to do, but it just can’t happen where it’s at,” she said [Shannon Marvel, “Planning Commission Denies Permit Applications for Bath Area Hog Operation,” Aberdeen American News, 2017.09.20].

Now don’t get the idea that Brown County is anti-CAFO. Our commission recently approved the Hutterville Colony’s application to expand its hog operation, raising the maximum hog count from 2,400 to nearly 10,000. But Jeff Wolff isn’t thinking about that. He’s lambasting Brown County for opposing livestock operations:

Brown County SD proved tonight that the people who sit on County Planning and Zoning board are the reason that livestock operations looking to grow in SD look elsewhere to build. Then they wonder why they have no tax base to maintain infrastructure. Apparently they are all vegetarians or maybe they think their pork chops, bacon and steaks come from the grocery store. Total idiots! [Jeff Wolff, Facebook post, 2017.09.19, 23:45 CDT]

With corn at $2.66 a bushel today and the attitude that many in Brown County have against livestock operations i do not feel sorry for them a damm bit! I hope they feel the hurt for a long time and that it affects those up and down main street as well. Brown county is the leading corn and soybean producing county in the state, the county is home to two ethanol plants and one close by in a neighboring county, one soybean processor and a new soybean crush plant under construction that will be one of the largest soy plants in the AGP system, a Beef Processor who is trying to get to full capacity. And yet with all of these resources the county ranks 33rd in the state for Cattle and Calves and 27th in state for hogs. There is something drastically wrong with this picture. Visit any small town in the county and the almost resemble a gosht town. Why because one of the main drivers of the economic engine in rural america is lacking here LIVESTOCK! If you want to see what livestock production does in terms of vibrant business activity in small rural towns travel to most any community in northwest Iowa and you will find main street alive and well and full of cars and pickups any day of the week. Livestock facilities contribute greatly to the tax base that is so badly needed to support our schools and maintain our infrastructure! WAKE UP BROWN COUNTY! You need to be working hard to bring operations to the county not driving them away!! [Jeff Wolff, Facebook post, 2017.09.20, ~noon CDT]

No word yet on Facebook on whether Wolff Family Genetics plans to move out of Brown County.


  1. Rorschach 2017-09-21 08:09

    The half mile setback rule has a reason behind it which is to balance the rights of Mr. Wolff with those of his neighbors to enjoy their property and to not have their property value eroded by fecal stench. If Mr. Wolff locates his building 2,640 feet from a neighboring residence he will have his permit from the county. His tantrum is over the top.

  2. Darin Larson 2017-09-21 08:56

    This story doesn’t seem to add up to me. 60 sows and 2 herd boars (not boards) times .4 animal units is 24.8 animal units. 160 developing guilts and boars times .3 animal units is 48 animal units. 400 baby pigs times .05 equals only 20 animal units. Add them all up and we are only talking about 92.8 animal units. Normally you don’t need any permit for less than 250-500 animal units.

  3. Kathy Tyler 2017-09-21 11:20

    Small towns haven’t turned into ghost towns because of a lack of support for ag. It’s lack of support for the small family farm..mega dairies and hog factories have gutted the small farmer. Look at Veblen,…two big dairies…no small town. Clark…big hog facility; it didn’t help; Milbank is fine because of the cheese factory. No, we can’t go back to the way it was, but please don’t think that CAFO’s are the answer. Or Walmart….

  4. Mr. Lansing 2017-09-21 13:06

    Autocorrect hates hogs!! It’s gilts not guilts. Which brings up a question. Once granted a permit how often, if ever, are the Colony’s (or any producer) hog numbers checked for population adherence?

  5. Gduffy 2017-09-21 13:45

    Kathy you have made Wolff’s point exactly. This IS a small operation and even though I do not know what is in Brown counties zoning ordinance this should not have been a problem.

    Most counties would not have had to have a hearing on something this small.

    And no, Mr Lansing hog waste is not radioactive it is organic matter and FERTILIZER in a different form. Does it smell yes, but it this not in a rural agricultural area? Is that not what one does in a agricultural area that is raise livestock?

    Again we are not talking about a CAFO.

  6. Mr. Lansing 2017-09-21 14:24

    It was humor, Duff. Digging a deep hole to put your pig sh*t down wouldn’t be cost effective. I worked for years on oil rigs and holes are very expensive.
    As far as the smell, “You don’t have to be a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
    If three neighbors within a half mile don’t want it, tough toenails.

  7. Mr. Lansing 2017-09-21 14:39

    I don’t know, Gary. Maybe you don’t have any hogs. Either way …..

  8. Darin Larson 2017-09-21 15:26

    Reading the linked story shows the Wolff family application is for 133 animal units. That is a crazy-low number for a half mile set back. I sympathize with this family’s frustration.

  9. Steve Dick 2017-09-21 16:28

    In Brown County a permit is required if you have more than 1 animal in confinement 180 days or more. The animals have to be at least a ½ mile away from the nearest neighbor. The farmer can have the livestock in confinement if they are less than a ½ mile by obtaining a signed waiver from the neighbor.

  10. Darin Larson 2017-09-21 16:53

    Steve, that is crazy. One milk cow in an old barn requires a permit in Brown county? This is the type of over-regulation that gives government a bad name.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-21 21:27

    Hang on, Darin. Steve says “in confinement.” If you have two milk cows and you let them wander the pasture each day, does that mean there’s jo need for a CAFO permit?

  12. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-21 21:33

    Kathy’s economic critique has merit, but as GDuffy notes, Wolff doesn’t sound like the typical megaCafo operator generating a city’s worth of sewage each day.

    Still, setbacks are setbacks, and 2640 feet is the rule. Not all neighbkrs approved, so no go. Does Brown County need to lower its setback for smaller operations?

  13. Darin Larson 2017-09-21 21:58

    Yes, Cory, my one milk cow is in confinement in the barn. I need to let it out of the barn and into a pasture that may or may not have grass in it for more than 180 days a year to avoid the regulation. That can be done.

    But what sense does regulating one milk cow make?

  14. Darin Larson 2017-09-21 22:00

    I’m sorry, it would take 2 milk cows to run afoul of the rule. What sense does regulating 2 milk cows make?

  15. Gduffy 2017-09-21 22:11

    Mr. Lansing, The difference between you and me is that you observe ag and I live it!

    Our operation has hog on it since I was born and I am north of 60!
    We built a small confinement in over 40 years ago and another over 30 years ago so do not make assumptions when you do not know the facts!

    To let you know how people have issues with preconcieved assumptions, let me give you an example.

    We were always concerned about when and where we spread our organic matter depending on which direction the wind was in since we lived under a mile from our town. Taking that into account we spread it in the opposite direction of the prevailing wind was that day. It just happened that the city lagoon was turning over at that time of the year. Guess what, the smell from the lagoon reached town. City dwellers would not believe it was coming from the lagoon as they blamed us for the smell even though it was spread 21/2 miles in the opposite direction from the wind! Go figure!

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-22 05:33

    As I think toward the the sensibility of such regulation, Darin, I notice that state law takes its definitions of animal feeding operation from federal law. An “animal feeding operation” has more than one critter:

    (i) Animals (other than aquatic animals) have been, are, or will be stabled or confined and fed or maintained for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period, and

    (ii) Crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post-harvest residues are not sustained in the normal growing season over any portion of the lot or facility [40 CFR 122.23(b)(1)(1)].

    Under that federal statute, you need 200 milk cows to be a medium CAFO and 700 milk cows to be a large CAFO. 2–699 makes you a small CAFO.

    I notice that Brown County ordinance, like state and federal law, appears to apply different rules if you’re also raising crops. “Commercial feedlot” is defined as ” a place where the principal business is the feeding of livestock and such feeding is not done in conjunction with the production of crops on a farm of which the feedlot is a part.” Likewise, CAFO is defined as a place “where animals have been, are, or will be stabled or confined for a total of 180 days or more during any 12-month period, and where crops, vegetation, forage growth, or post harvest residues are not sustained over any portion of the lot or facility.” Brown County puts your 2-cow operation in Class D or Class E, depending on whether or not your cows are deemed to pose a potential water pollution hazard. Class E needs no permit. To determine whether your two cows pose a pollution hazard, the zoning officer considers two criteria:

    1. The Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation does not meet the minimum setback and separation distances of these regulations.

    2. A Potential Water Pollution Hazard exists due to sitting over a shallow aquifer or drainage, which contributes to the waters of the State.

    If you’ve been milking since before December 18, 1997, Brown County excuses you from the setbacks. But if you move here and want to start a new milking operation, then the setbacks apply.

  17. Darin Larson 2017-09-22 07:50

    Cory, you have illustrated my point for me very well. A farmer and his government should not have to determine if two milk cows is a Class D or Class E cafo. The C in cafo stands for “concentrated.” In what world is 2 milk cows in a barn the type of concentrated animal agriculture worthy of governmental regulation?

    Follow-up question: Are the setbacks the same for Class D or Class E from 2-199 animals? If so, does it make any sense whatsoever to have a setback that is the same whether you have 2 or 199 critters on the place? (unless the setback is essentially zero)

    You had said “Under that federal statute, you need 200 milk cows to be a medium CAFO and 700 milk cows to be a large CAFO. 2–699 makes you a small CAFO.” I assume you meant to say 2-199 makes you a small CAFO.

  18. mike from iowa 2017-09-22 08:28

    Do prisons get this much screwtinny during overcrowding? Aren’t prisoners humans and more important than other confined livestock?

  19. Steve Dick 2017-09-22 10:43

    Class D is 0 – 300 animal units…… its not 2 cow dairy it’s a 1 cow dairy!

  20. Darin Larson 2017-09-22 11:16

    Uffda, Steve!

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-09-22 17:53

    Steve, I know you’re far more an ag expert than I, but are you sure about that 1? If I recall correctly, the text I looked at referred to animals, plural, thus appearing to exclude Darin’s one cow.

  22. Clyde 2017-09-24 10:08

    I’m with Mr Larson.
    The size of operation that the Wolff’s are proposing is about the size that every hog producer had before the clean out of farms began in the 80’s and the take over of animal agriculture by the vertical integrator’s began. This is a tiny operation.
    I’m also in agreement with Kathy Tyler. Instead of farm programs that huge operators can game or that give all the taxpayer moneys to big insurance we need programs that keep people on the land.
    How about a program that identifies what a viable farm ought to be and only supports the production from that viable farm. All excess production would fall into that ” FREE” market competition that we have heard so much about for decades. Instead we have been running farm programs that force over production in order to get a taxpayer check. Vertical integrator’s love all this cheap feed.
    Of course that would require actual administration. Unfunded mandates are favorite now days. We have swamp buster rules on the books but I’ve never seen so much drainage work done in my life as in the last few years. I advised my brother to check with the county before tiling a wet land. The answer from them was that under swamp buster he couldn’t. The reply from his contractor was that he shouldn’t have asked them!

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