Scott County Board of Supervisors

County asked to take more control of CAFOs


Two Scott County women urged supervisors to seek more control over livestock confined feeding operations. Kay Pence, of Eldridge, and Claudia Reyes-Fry, of Davenport, presented data Feb. 2 on confined livestock feeding operations  in the county.

(Correction, Feb. 24, 2021): Their list presented to supervisors ncluded current and former sites in the county. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources list of current permit holders shows 43 Scott County confined feeding permits with capacity totaling 54,549.6 animals, mostly pigs. That was 11,083 fewer animals than Pence and Landhuis presented to the county board.)

Supervisors did not act on their request to join 26 other Iowa counties seeking more authority in such operations, which now are regulated exclusively by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Pence said 30 percent of Scott County’s operations are permitted for fewer than 1,000, so they do not need to meet the DNR’s master matrix permitting requirements.

The DNR’s matrix created in 2002 needs an update, she said.

“We feel that the master matrix construction evaluation only encourages the bare minimum and does not go far enough to protect our communities, soil, water, air, or quality of life,” Pence and Reyes wrote in a memo to supervisors.

The matrix scores new or expanded confinement operations requests and awards permits to those that meet a minimum score, regardless of supervisors’ opinions.

Reyes said DNR permitting does disclose some new and expanding operations, but needs to do more.

“It fails to request other sustainable farm field practices such as cover crops, no till and saturated buffers proven to improve soil conditions and control run off. There needs to be higher accountability to increase usage of these programs, since the majority depend on voluntarily participation,” she told supervisors.

The pair submitted a statement from Lora Rathje, of McCausland, who said a confinement operation was built near her home, “without any prior knowledge of it being permitted,” she said.

“The master matrix failed to protect our community. The CAFO is putting our already high nitrate water supply in more peril,” Rathje wrote.

Supervisor John Maxwell, who operates confined hog and cattle feeding operations near Donahue, disputed their conclusions, particularly about manure runoff.

“I am a farmer and I do own hog buildings. I’m still perplexed with that statement because my hog buildings have a roof over them. They’re basically in a concrete bunker. When it rains, it stays in the concrete bunker. I’m not seeing the connection.”

“I think the CAFOs and hog confinements are some of the more safer pieces,” he said.

Pence acknowledged, “there are good farmers who do the practices. Personally, I’m concerned about the manure you spread on fields that flow from your fields,” Pence said. She said Iowa has no limits on manure spreading, and smaller livestock operations are exempt from permitting. “Some farms fall below the matrix. They don’t do any practices at all,” Pence said.

Maxwell asked if she thought the DNR, “is good at administering master matrix?”

Pence said the DNR is no match for Iowa farming practices, based on the latest Iowa Water Quality analysis. that shows more nitrogen going on fields and showing up in streams.

“I see that nutrients going into water are actually going up,” Pence said.

Supervisor Ken Croken welcomed the discussion, and acknowledged he learned, too, from his recent tour of Maxwell’s Donahue farm. He favors more local control.

“Not all farmers are burying or injecting manure into the ground to insure it is well covered. Not all are measuring the amount of nitrate in parts of their farm directly adjoining ditches that feed the streams. It’s mostly a matter of responsible farming practices that I’m proud to say Mr. Maxwell is one of the practitioners of. But I don’t think that can be said uniformly.”

In a phone interview later, Pence said she also valued her tour of Maxwell’s farm

“One of the things that stood out after talking to John; if I’m not putting manure on my land, I’m putting synthetic fertilizers on it. It caused me to change my presentation. We need to find a way to encourage farmers to use sustainable practices,” Pence said.