Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Deadline Looms And PSF May Pay Unfair Price

Deadline looms for PSF stink

State could sue if hog farms not fixed.
Monday, May 17, 2010

KANSAS CITY (AP) — Hog processing giant Premium Standard Farms LLC spent $40 million over the past decade developing technology after a court ordered it to sharply reduce odors at its Missouri farms, but a looming deadline is threatening another costly lawsuit.

A panel of experts recently approved a barn-scraper system that met goals established under a 1999 court settlement with environmental groups to develop “next-generation technology.” But the deadline to implement the system is July 31, and the company — which said it had little success developing the technology until now — needs another two years to get the system in place.

Missing the deadline would allow the state to sue, and the Missouri attorney general’s office said July 31 remains its target. The deadline has already been pushed back once

“It’s going to take some time, and people need to be aware of that,” Premium Standard President Bill Homann said.

The Princeton, Mo.-based company employs about 1,100 people in the state, mostly in economically depressed communities in northern Missouri. It has roughly 97,000 sows that are expected to produce about 1.8 million market hogs this year.

An expert panel established by the court approved biofilters as next-generation technology in 2008, but Premium Standard called them ineffective and too costly to install at its dozens of farms in northern Missouri.

The three-member expert team turned down all of the company’s other plans until April, when it determined the criteria also were met by a system that would use giant scrapers to push manure into gutters, where it would be removed from the barn and trucked away.

The method would replace current systems that use water to flush hog manure from barns and into big lagoons for treatment.

But the panel’s decision came barely three months before Premium Standard’s deadline to have new technology implemented.

The Missouri attorney general’s office must now decide whether to grant Premium Standard another extension or to file a lawsuit against the company. In 2004, the original deadline for compliance, the target date was pushed back to July 2010.

“Discussions between the parties are ongoing,” said Nancy Gonder, spokeswoman for Attorney General Chris Koster. “There has not been a resolution. The July 31 deadline remains our target.”

But it could get tricky.

Premium Standard officials warned in March that the company’s Missouri operations could be moved elsewhere after a Jackson County jury awarded 15 plaintiffs more than $11 million in a nuisance lawsuit. Many other lawsuits are pending.

At a mid-March meeting that packed a junior college gymnasium in Trenton, Premium Standard supporters pleaded with the expert panel to look favorably upon the company’s latest odor-management proposals.

“Finally we have found a solution amiable to both sides,” Homann said Thursday. “We can go back and say the missing link was barn odor control technology. Now it’s up to the attorney general’s office to agree or offer alternatives.”

Yikes! Not only do hog producers have activists, sue-happy neighbors, DNR regulations, and general PR to deal with; now, we have to worry about getting sued by the state itself. Odor is something that comes with farming in general but now we can have legal action against us for it. Our barns stink when it's super humid or when we agitate the pit but the organic farm across the road from my house stinks just as bad for the same reasons. Bottom line: poop stinks, get use to it.

Premium Standard farms has been working on "next generation technology" for several years now to control the odor. However, the problem remains because there hasn't been a cost effective method that actually works. To put a deadline on technology that doesn't even exist yet seems a trifle unfair. To make this even less fair (if that's possible) all of Premium Standard's proposed ideas have been turned down until just a few months ago. How does the state, which takes several months to just decide anything let alone act on it, expect an entirely new system to be constructed and operational on dozens of farms in only a few months? It's just unrealistic.

This is a real threat to hog farmers. I can't speak for everyone but I know our farm and the vast majority of other hog producers in Missouri follow the rules, get the permits, pass inspections, and do everything within their power to keep the farm running as it should and as it is required to run. Despite all this, despite following the rules and complying with new ones our government still won't stand behind us. Hog producers and farmers in general pay loads of state and local taxes that go toward improvements, schools, etc. and yet our state won't stand behind us. Premium Standard Farms employs 1,100 people, local people; our little hog operation employs 6 people, four separate households, and yet our community won't stand behind us. It's a sad day when good country folks have turned so bitter that they would rather sue thy neighbor than love thy neighbor.

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