Guest Columnist

A Matrix update is long overdue

An animal feeding operation in rural Lime Springs, Iowa on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
An animal feeding operation in rural Lime Springs, Iowa on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

With the arrival of the closing phase of this election cycle and as the subject matter for the next state legislative session begins to formulate, we believe now is the time to address the updating of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Master Matrix application for the siting of new concentrated animal feeding operations.

To have a constructive Matrix discussion, we believe it is necessary to acknowledge three points:

First: Confinement feeding operations have a significant positive financial impact on the county they are located in and the state in general. The construction of a new hog, chicken or turkey barn can often be connected to bringing home a son or daughter to a family farming operation. The majority of farmers with confinement operations care about their neighbors and the environment.

Second: We have reached a “quality of life” tipping point in areas of the state that have the highest concentrations of confinement feeding operations. We are running out of dead end gravel roads. Acreage owners and smaller communities are feeling pressure from new hog barns in particular, moving increasingly closer.

Third: A “moratorium” on new confinement feeding operations solves nothing. It simply puts off addressing the issue.

Recommendation No. 1 is obvious, Iowans have the opportunity between now and Election Day to ask legislative and gubernatorial candidates whether they would support updating the Matrix. However the candidate answers, it is critical that the question be asked — letting the candidate know that this is an issue that no longer can be ignored.

While it takes legislative action and the governor’s signature to update the Matrix, the other key component is producers. Our second recommendation is producers should form a work group now, made up of large and small producers across pork, beef and poultry. Relevant researchers from the School of Agriculture at Iowa State University and the School of Medicine at the University of Iowa, matched with staff from Iowa DNR, should round out the group. The addition of other interest groups should be resisted. They can make their points during the legislative process. With a relatively small but focused group, a practical and fact based framework of Matrix changes could be created and delivered to the Legislature by the 2019 session.

We are under no illusion this is an easy task for producers. There is little interest on the part of producers to open this can of worms. Recent legislatures and governors have had no desire to take up this issue or even acknowledge that there is an issue. But tension in the countryside between small and large operators, landowners, small communities and acreage owners, matched with the environmental effects, no longer can be overlooked.

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We know that with a dedicated and honest effort answers can begin to be found. Voters need to press candidates and producers need to take the lead.

• Doug Bailey, Dan Campidilli and David Young are members of the Hamilton County Board of Supervisors.

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