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story.lead_photo.caption FILE — Sanders Farm in Newton County contained as many as 3,200 hogs this summer, with some let loose to roam outdoors to alleviate crowding.

Operators of an unpermitted hog farm in the Buffalo River's watershed must clear improperly stored hog manure and develop a plan to manage the manure by March 15, a judge has ordered.

But the farm won't have to shut down or get an operating permit, Boone County Circuit Judge Gail Inman-Campbell ruled this month.

The farm can continue to operate under a dry-litter manure management system, in which hog manure is combined with straw or hay to absorb the manure and create dry bedding that can eventually be used as fertilizer.

Late last year, the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality sued Sanders Farm, located just outside Western Grove, for operating without a permit in a watershed that had a moratorium on new hog farms of its size and for letting liquid hog manure leak to a nearby creek.

But permits -- and the regulations and moratoriums that dictate them -- are required for only liquid manure systems, which the department failed to prove Sanders Farm was using, Inman-Campbell ruled.

The department at one time required dry-manure farms to have permits, but the department changed its regulations in 2012 to exempt them, records show.

The department did not respond to a question about whether it would appeal the judge's ruling.

"I thought the judge was fair and reasoned in her judgment and fair with her ruling," said Robert Ginnaven, Sanders Farm's attorney.

The liquid manure escaped from Sanders Farm property, according to testimony, when the farmers were unable to sell their hogs and their operation grew from about 2,400 hogs to about 3,200 -- more than they could handle.

Pat and Starlinda Sanders, who own the farm, said they couldn't sell their pigs because they had been ill. So they let pigs roam from their property to reduce crowding and began storing some dry-litter manure outside, where rain hit it, turned it back to a liquid and it drained off of the property.

Department officials said the manure washed into Cedar Creek, which eventually drains into the Buffalo National River.

Because some waste was liquid and had washed into nearby waterways, the department argued that the farm was using a liquid manure management system and needed a permit.

Photo by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
A map showing the location of Sanders Farm

"The defendants have been forthright about their actions and admitted they created this situation by releasing the hogs and have taken responsibility for their actions acknowledging the grave danger to the environment if allowed to continue," Inman-Campbell wrote in her ruling. "The court believes the defendants' testimony expressing their remorse for this whole debacle."

The farm must stop releasing its hogs from the barns, use its dry-manure disposal system, empty the contents of the dry-manure stacking barns by March 15, revegetate the area between one barn and County Road 50, replace the wood walls of one stacking barn with cinder blocks and write a nutrient-management plan for the manure by March 15, according to the order.

The farmers have begun to revegetate the land with grass and have contacted people who have agreed to collect the manure from the stacking barns and to draft a nutrient-management plan, Ginnaven said.

In 2012, the Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission voted to remove dry-manure facilities from its Regulation 6 National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, which cover concentrated animal feeding operations, which Sanders Farm would be.

Regulation 5, under which many hog farms are permitted, is titled "liquid animal waste management systems."

The regulation removal came at the suggestion of the Department of Environmental Quality, under the administration of director Teresa Marks. In 2003, the department, under the administration of Marcus Devine, pushed the commission to pass emergency rules to require permits for dry-manure operations.

In both requests, the department cited changes at the federal level for their need to alter Arkansas' regulations.

In 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency expanded on the types of farms that needed permits, including medium and large concentrated animal feeding operations.

The EPA later amended its regulations again for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits and made no reference to dry-manure hog operations.

The state Environmental Quality Department's concentrated animal feeding operation regulations have always been more strict than those at the federal level, as evidenced by requiring permits for non-discharge liquid-waste hog farms, said Ryan Benefield, deputy director for the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission and a former deputy director for the Environmental Quality Department.

In 2011, after the EPA again changed its regulations, the department decided to remove the dry-manure requirements, which agricultural groups had previously sought.

Benefield said he doesn't know how many dry-manure hog farms are in the state. The commission writes voluntary nutrient management plans for farmers, but he said he's not aware of any that have been written for hog farms that use dry manure.

Because permits aren't required, it's difficult to gauge how many dry-manure hog farms are in Arkansas, said Steve Eddington, an Arkansas Farm Bureau spokesman.

"I am aware that some of the free-range pork producers are utilizing dry manure, but there is no way that I am aware of to pinpoint the number of farms using that practice," Eddington said.

Metro on 02/19/2018

Print Headline: Manage manure, hog farm ordered

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Comments

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  • TimberTopper
    February 19, 2018 at 8:26 a.m.

    Mike Masterson, where are you?

  • arkateacher54
    February 19, 2018 at 11:45 a.m.

    Just close the dang hog farms down. What fool started a hog farm in the Buffalo watershed anyway? The Buffalo is a one-of-a-kind national treasure. There are plenty of hog farms and we can do without some of them.

  • FayFan
    February 19, 2018 at 11:54 a.m.

    Last paragraph shows classic Farm Bureau response, trying to point the finger at small farmers ("free-range") as if they are the problem. They are not.

    The problem is CAFOs like the one in this article and that other one in the Buffalo watershed, places where animals are packed into buildings like sardines their entire lives and never see the light of day. These are not farms, they are factories.

    Each hog produces as much waste as 5-10 humans (depending on size of hog and type of feed). Simple math shows these "farms" each produce as much sewage as a town of 15-30,000 people, none of which is treated before it is spread on the ground. We don't allow untreated human waste to be spread on the ground. Why does anyone think it is okay to do this with hog waste? It is no cleaner. And it certainly makes no sense when the underlying bedrock is fractured limestone karst. That pig poop ends up in the creeks, springs, rivers and underground waters.

    Many rivers in Iowa and North Carolina, not to mention CHINA, have been so totally polluted by hog waste from CAFOs that they are no longer allowing any more to be built. Here in Arkansas we have the opportunity to stop building them BEFORE we spoil our beautiful Buffalo.

    Here's some irony. You can bet that most if not all of the pork product coming out of these polluting CAFOs is being exported to growing markets in Asia.
    So. Are we really going to destroy the jewel of the Natural State, our country's first National River, so more people in China (where they've already messed up their own rivers with too many CAFOs) can eat more pork chop suey?

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