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Rural MN Communities Fight Influence of Factory Farms


Thursday, September 8, 2022   

This week, a northern Minnesota county advanced a large-scale hog feedlot project. Opponents argued such operations are not what rural communities want, and worry corporate agriculture has too much of an advantage in getting approval.

The feedlot was approved by the Becker County Board of Commissioners. A lengthier fight has been playing out regarding a proposed dairy expansion in Winona County.

Sonja Trom Eayrs, a lawyer, family farm manager and grassroots activist, said it has been an issue for her family's farm in Dodge County, asserting some planning commission members have had connections to factory farms. She emphasized local residents should pay more attention to who is being elected to these boards.

"Be very mindful of who's going to serve in those positions because that's where this starts," Eayrs urged. "Industrial animal agriculture is like a cancer upon the land, and it spreads from community to community."

The concerns are more pronounced during nonpresidential elections when voter turnout is not as strong.

Eayrs pointed out Farm Bureau offices sometimes recruit local candidates who might be sympathetic toward corporate agriculture. In a statement, the Minnesota office said it encourages members to be active in their communities but does not directly coordinate with them to serve.

Despite Becker County's approval, commissioners there warned about future requests and are considering a moratorium. Meanwhile, concerns about confined animal feeding operations range from water pollution to crumbling roads in townships. Eayrs noted the industry changes the complexity of rural communities by fueling a number of supply businesses.

"Most of these small towns look tired," Eayrs observed. "They're worn and everything is tied into the hog industry."

According to data from the Environmental Protection Agency, several Midwestern states lead the nation when it comes to the number of large confined animal-feeding operations within their borders, including Minnesota and Iowa.

Minnesota has roughly 1,500 such operations. Iowa has nearly 4,000.

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