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South Dakota Ag Critters Generate Same Waste as 68 Million People

University of Iowa environmental engineering researcher Chris Jones blogs about the tension between agriculture and a healthy environment. (“Farmers are stewards of the land” is on Jones’s Cropaganda Tropes Bingo card.) One of   his more popular blog posts is a 2019 calculation of Iowa’s real population in terms of waste products—i.e., pee and poop—flowing from the state’s food critters. When Jones tallies the nitrogen, phosphorus, and total solids generated by Iowa hogs, dairy cattle, beef cattle, laying chickens, and turkeys, he figures critter ag generates 134 million people’s worth of sewage in Iowa:

In total, these five species generate the waste equivalent to that produced by about 134 million people, which would place Iowa as the 10th most populous country in the world, right below Russia and right above Mexico. (Caveat: obviously Russia and Mexico have their own livestock that I am not counting.) And in terms of population density in the context of N, P and TS waste, Iowa would come close to the country of Bangladesh [Chris Jones, “Iowa’s Real Population,” blog, 2019.03.14].

Let’s use Jones’s math to figure out South Dakota’s real poopulation:

Iowa critter count Iowa critter waste people equivalent South Dakota critter count SD critter waste people equivalent
hogs 22,000,000
(avg. of est. 20M–24M)
83,700,000 1,500,000 5,700,000
dairy cows 250,000 8,600,000 153,000 5,300,000
beef cattle 1,800,000 25,000,000 4,000,000 56,000,000
laying chickens 80,000,000 15,000,000 2,240,000
(est. from 700M eggs per year,
avg. 300–325 eggs per hen)
turkeys 4,700,000 900,000 5,000,000 960,000

Assuming South Dakota critters produce nitrogen, phosphorus, and total solids as prodigiously as their Iowa counterparts (and Dan Lederman certainly seems to produce as much bullcrap in Iowa as he does in South Dakota), our hogs, dairy and beef cattle, chickens, and turkeys would produce  68 million people’s worth of sewage.

68 million people—that’s a lot of poop! That’s the amount of sewage you’d get if you took the yearly excretion of every human being in America’s 20 largest cities—New York, L.A., Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philly, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, San Jose, Austin, Jacksonville, Fort Worth, Columbus, Indianapolis, Charlotte, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and D.C.‚—and doubled it.

In Iowa, the ratio of ag critter waste in people equivalents to actual people is 42 to 1—i.e., if we put every Iowan’s yearly poop in a discrete pile, we could surround that pile with 42 equally sized piles of critter poop. In South Dakota, the critter/people poop ratio is 77 to 1.

So, yeah: you could say South Dakota is a crappier state than Iowa.

You could also say that if you’re worried enough about properly disposing of human waste that you’ll spend $50 million of federal coronavirus relief dollars to build better sewers, you should be even more worried (like, $50M × 77 = $3.8 billion’s worth of worried) about controlling waste runoff from our CAFOs and poultry factories.


  1. larry kurtz 2021-12-29 09:10

    In red states like South Dakota freedom equals the right to pollute.

    Koch Industries’ relationship with the late Republican Kansas Senator Bob Dole not only helped to delegitimize the issue of oil theft it allowed the company to build an ecoterrorism empire. Charles Koch was a member of the John Birch Society and Koch Industries has given loads of cash to Mike Rounds, Howdy Doody Dusty Johnson and John Thune.

    Today Koch is one of four corporations that control the production and sale of nitrogen-based fertilizer in the US. The others are Yara-USA, CF Industries and Nutrien so the Family Farm Action Alliance, a 501c3 non-profit group has asked the Department of Justice to investigate the reasons behind the avaricious rises in fertilizer prices.

    The United States gets much of its nitrogen fertilizer from Belarus through the Persian Gulf but a Trump era tariff and Hurricane Ida in the Gulf of Mexico slowed the movement of product to markets up and down the Mississippi River. Nitrogen fertilizer is normally applied to subsidized corn then ends right back up in the Gulf of Mexico where it kills whole ecosystems.

  2. O 2021-12-29 10:49

    Larry, the GOP have extended businesses’ rights far past pollution to all manner of exploitation — even the right to kill when in pursuit of profit.

  3. Donald Pay 2021-12-29 11:35

    This was an issue in the 1980s when Hughes County residents fought the National Farm pig confinement operation. At that point modern regulation of CAFOs was just beginning to be talked about. Some of us argued that such hog confinement operations over a certain size should build sewage treatment plants to take care of the waste. That National Farms operation’s production of waste would have considerably dwarfed the City of Pierre’s sewage production. Needless to say, the industry resisted, and so now we have the current pollution mess.

  4. 96Tears 2021-12-29 11:53

    Don – That was an interesting fight, as were the battles over the sewage ash scam, the proposed low level radioactive waste site and the giant national garbage can proposal (SDDS?) which backfired and resulted in the state losing millions for voters overriding the cozy deal the governor and legislators cut with trash dumpers’ lobbyist. In each of these, the dumpers played the state as a bunch of suckers and losers. And don’t get me started about surface mining and heap leaching in the Black Hills. There was strong resistance to these stupid proposals until people just gave up and turned a blind eye to the exploiters. You were in the thick of those battles, but something changed. Something malignant in this state and the rest of dark red America. Can people return to common sense on the clear fact that they are viewed as being expendable as long as some exploiter is making a fortune on poisoning their water and air?

  5. larry kurtz 2021-12-29 12:03

    Indeed Owen. The introduction of the Chinese ring-necked pheasant is one of the most destructive acts of ecoterrorism in the history of the United States.

  6. jerry 2021-12-29 12:35

    131 years ago today, Wounded Knee Massacre took place. We must never forget this stain on our fellow human beings. Even in the bloody one sided murders of so many innocents, the congress took it upon themselves to give Medals of Honor to the murdering men of the 7th Cavalry.

  7. Jake 2021-12-29 13:19

    Jerry, and the rape, murder and pillage continue on and the lies don’t seem to stop either; the GOP is fomenting lies re; the Big Steal and blaming the Democrats for socialism while they are AlWAYS the first squealing pigs to the trough when the feds through some $$$ into it.. Today’s RCJournal had as usual, editorials of two GOP legislators, bragging of “partnerships” between developers, municipalities and the state on a $600 million plan for ‘workforce housing’; actually, SOCIALISM of the first degree using tax dollars: the developers won’t do it until it’s certain the other two tax-entities are on board for certain. The other two entities are going to be using Biden Covid and Infrastructure $$$ to pay their 1/3 each. Purest socialism-GOP style. But, money for Medicaid or laid off workers is leftist socialism!
    Danged Hypocrites!

  8. Donald Pay 2021-12-29 13:30

    96 Tears, I don’t think the people really want to drink pig manure, garbage leachate or mine waste anymore today than they did in the 1980’s. So what has changed? Among our failures in the late 1990’s was the failure to develop new leaders to carry on the work we did in the 80’s and 90’s. I know that I and others tired of the environmental fights and switched to doing other work. Besides, by the end of the 1990’s we had beaten back a lot of bad stuff—the dumps were no longer coming, the mines were playing out, the CAFOs were smaller and somewhat regulated. It was time to move on for most of us.

    In our prime we had a lot of groups engaged in the various fights. In South Dakota you need about 10-20 highly committed people, and about 300-500 solid contributors to make a difference. It helps to have grant money.

  9. Mark Anderson 2021-12-29 15:15

    Well, let’s see where the new packing plant in Sioux Falls goes, maybe they can smell as well as Sioux City for those passing by. That’s alot of sheeeet.

  10. ABC 2021-12-29 16:11

    13 million animals, 885 thousand people. They poop, they should vote too, as a bloc.

    State law 12-3-1. General qualifications of voters–Registration required.

    Every person resident of this state who shall be of the age of eighteen years and upwards, not otherwise disqualified, who shall have complied with the provisions of law relating to the registration of voters shall be entitled to vote at any election in this state.

    What is the legal definition of person?
    person. n. 1) a human being. 2) a corporation treated as having the rights and obligations of a person.

    We know corporations have a lot of rights as far as campaign finance money (lots of it) and ability to have lawsuits. Too bad animals don’t qualify. Animals can display intelligence, and NONE of the animal species (except human) drink alcohol. So in a sense, animals are non-human electors who have no right to vote and never get drunk.

    Here’s hoping computer jobs outnumber the “ag’ industry.

  11. grudznick 2021-12-29 17:51

    Elephants and monkeys drink alcohol.

  12. Mark Winegar 2021-12-29 19:27

    We’ve cut our meat consumption by at least 50% and don’t miss the extra we used to consume. Try it!

  13. grudznick 2021-12-29 19:32

    I’m stepping my meat consumption up, and that’s not an easy thing to do. Meat is good for you. Meat is food. Potatoes are good too, if you put a nice, sausage heavy gravy on them.

  14. M 2021-12-30 05:52

    Yeah Grudz and I bet you’re on meds for cholesterol and hypertension. Me? I’ll cancel you out because I quit eating red meat and never have eaten pork. From my life experiences, I find it easier to get down on the yoga mat instead of chair yoga and ride a bicycle off road rather than a stationary bike when I consume foods that don’t take so long to digest. They tend to weigh me down and then I get nothing done. Out of the way!!!

  15. Bonnie B Fairbank 2021-12-30 18:05

    Last time I bought chicken it was Open Acres label and was on sale for 49 cents a pound in those hefty, frozen 10# bags that contained dinosaur-sized hindquarter haunches. Got 20# and cooked them on my woodstove; carefully rendered the chicken fat, clarified it, strained it, and canned the schmaltz.
    Stripped the bones of meat and made chicken stock from bones, cartilage, and cracklings. Canned the stock.
    I discovered I could not bear to eat the meat and fed it to domestic animals. I can eat almost anything (canned lima beans, canned kale, canned overmature peas) but not the meat.
    So far I’ve managed to incorporate the schmaltz into homemade biscuit mix, and boiled noodles and simmered dry beans in the stock.
    I have mental images of grudz making gravy from goats.

  16. mike from iowa 2022-04-29 18:54

    Hard to find proper place for this, hut, if you find cafos inherently cruel, this will likely upset you on all fronts…

    Near Rembrandt, iowa, just off US Hiway 71 between Storm Lake and Sioux Rapids. Owned by Glen Taylor owner of Minnesota Timberwolves BB team, among other toys, and quite wealthy.

    They needed to annihilate 5.3 million layers so they blocked air vents and turned heat up, essentially cooking the birds alive. Then he had the workers, many undocumented guests, dispose of the carcasses and then he fired every employee.

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