North Carolina legislature says “no new manure lagoons”

Here are a few related items following up on a recent Digest item about the EPA’s agreements with CAFO operators that shield them from lawsuits.

North Carolina says "No new lagoons"

Via The Rural Blog, I learned about an attempt in North Carolina to extend a moratorium on new hog manure lagoons. The original moratorium was passed in 1997, with a 10-year lifetime. Last month, both houses of the legislature unanimously approved a permanent ban on new manure lagoons; the bill is now waiting for the governor’s signature. Indications are that he will sign it.

North Carolina is the nation’s second most prolific hog producer (Iowa is first), with about 10 million animals living in the state. These animals, which are concentrated in the Southeastern portion of the state (see map below, which comes from the Factory Farm Map project), produce 13 million pounds of waste each day. (Boss Hog, a feature article in Rolling Stone, has much to say about pollution caused by hog CAFOs in North Carolina.) Operators flush the waste into open lagoons for storage until it can be sprayed onto fields as fertilizer. The state currently has 2,500 of these open-air lagoons in operation, all of which were built before the original 1997 ban.

Map of hog concentration in North Carolina from

Although environmentalists generally applaud the bill’s passage, they would have liked to see it go further by specifying phase-out dates for lagoons. Instead, the legislation has provisions for lagoon replacement. One legal expert interviewed by the News & Observer, however, sees a high barrier against replacement in the law — the lagoon must present an demonstrably immediate hazard.

New hog farms will be required to build far more sophisticated waste disposal systems that reduce odors, ammonia emissions, and the release of waste into groundwater and surface waterways. The new systems will cost two to five times more than an open-air lagoon (anyone know what fraction of pork’s cost is related to waste treatment?).

One of the articles found a a state legislator getting a little bit too excited about manure. Rep. Carolyn Justice, a Pender County Republican said, "I think we’re all going to be thrilled at what is done with this waste." Although I can’t be sure — she might have some kind of grudge against the CAFO counties — my guess is that she was referring to state-funded initiatives to capture methane from lagoons for use in electricity generation, which are also in use at sustainable farms like Straus Family Creamery in Marin County, California.

The above information comes from coverage by the News & Observer of Raleigh and the Associated Press, in articles from July 24, July 25, and two articles on July 26.

Hogs in Iowa

The North Carolina story reminded me of an unintended discovery during a Digest researching session several months ago. It is a short report called "Iowa’s Changing Swine Industry" (PDF), by two professors at Iowa State University. Here are a few items from the report (my emphasis):

The business structure of Iowa pig farms has shifted from independent family farms involved in farrow-to-finish production to networks of producers that are tied by contracts or ownership to large swine companies or swine packers. In 2002, 50% of Iowa pigs sold were fed under a contracting arrangement.

The average size of pig farms has dramatically increased 6 fold in 25 years. In 1978, the average Iowa pig farm had about 250 pigs. In 2002, the average Iowa pig farm had more than 1,500 pigs.

Pigs once viewed positively across Iowa may now be viewed negatively. Pigs in rural Iowa were once called “mortgage lifters” and pig manure odor was the “smell of money.” But in 2004, the ISU Rural Life Poll found that when rural Iowa residents were asked their preferences about rural development activity, hog confinements ranked below prisons, solid waste landfills, slaughter plants, and sewage treatment plants as desirable rural development.

CAFO Cartography

The above graphic of North Carolina comes from Food and Water Watch’s new interactive Factory Farm Map, which will show you how hog, pig, or cow operations are distributed in your state. The map was recently editorialized about by the New York Times editorial board; Food and Water Watch’s accompanying report explains why factory farming is so detrimental.

One Responseto “North Carolina legislature says “no new manure lagoons””

  1. Elanor says:

    Marc, re: your question about the fraction of pork’s cost related to waste treatment: Environmental Defense published a study in 2000 on the cost of implementing various alternative waste management systems on NC hog operations ( They estimate that running a traditional lagoon system in NC today costs $3.72 per finished (250 lb) hog– about $.01 per pound. Hogs cost about $0.40-$0.44/lb to produce, so the current lagoon system accounts for about 3% of total production costs, according to their figures.

    Incidentally, the most expensive alternative waste management system that they propose would add an additional $5.21/hog onto operating costs, or about $.03/lb. Using it would bump the share of total production costs related to waste management to 7%.

    Their data is looking at hogs on the farm, not pork from the grocery store– so we can assume that waste management costs would account for a much, much smaller fraction of what we pay at the store, considering the expense of processing and distribution.

    The moral: if Smithfield and co. argue that improving waste management systems will negatively impact pork consumers, tell them to think again.