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Partner Taylor Aasmundstad of Devils Lake, N.D., says preliminary dirt work started two weeks ago for the Grand Prairie Gestation Farm. If approved by the North Dakota Health Department, construction could start this fall or in the spring of 2018 and isn't large enough to constitute a CAFO, or confined animal feeding operation. Photo taken July 26, 2017, at Devils Lake, N.D. (Forum News Service/Agweek/Mikkel Pates)

Devils Lake farmer plans swine barn

DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — Taylor Aasmundstad is just starting his agricultural career and wants to jump into animal agriculture, but some neighbors are opposed to the location near Devils Lake, N.D., a major fisheries and recreational resource.

"We decided if we're going to make it in agriculture, we're going to have animals on our farm," says Taylor, 23, who raises crops with his father, Eric Aasmundstad, west of Devils Lake. Eric is a former president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau and is president of Nodak Insurance Co.

Taylor and his partner, college friend, Daniel Julson, an accountant at Wahpeton, N.D., plan to build Grand Prairie Agriculture, LP, a $6 million purebred sow barn on the Aasmundstad farm property west of Devils Lake. It includes 80 acres owned by Eric.

On June 30, they filed for health permits for a "multiplier." With various sizes of pigs, it will have up to 997 animal units — not large enough to be considered a concentrated animal feeding operation. If built, it will supply pigs to other farrowing barns that would produce piglets to go to farms that would finish them for market. They expect a decision on the permit by mid-August.

If the permit is approved, it's likely that construction could still start this fall, and Taylor says it could be completed within four months. Once the barn is stocked, the first pigs could be delivered within six months.

College friends

In fall 2016, Taylor and Julson approached a family friend, Craig Jarolimek, manager of sales and business developer for Topigs Norsvin USA, a Dutch pig breeding organization. Jarolimek counseled them to consider building a multiplier. Taylor sees the project as a relatively "small barn" facility compared to other kinds production, including raising market pigs.

On April 21, they received $46,000 from the North Dakota Agricultural Products Utilization Commission after requesting $50,000. The APUC money will help pay for engineering, soil testing and business development.

Next they talked to Pipestone System, the management company. It is the same management company that is involved in a larger proposed farrowing farm called Rolling Green Family Farms, at Buffalo, N.D., an operation about three times larger than this one. The management and genetics company showed an interest in working together on the project. They have signed contracts with Pipestone and two weeks ago did some preliminary dirt work on the site.

Family backing

Taylor and Julson are working with a primary bank lender and hope that half of the funds will be from loans backed by the Small Business Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development. The other half will come from private funds — between the Aasmundstad and Julson families. Eric Aasmundstad says he's excited his son is in the project and he expects to help by co-signing loans.

"The thing that makes me feel the best about this project is that there are two young guys who want to stay in the (agriculture) industry," Eric says. "I think it's their only way to survive, to diversify."

The Aasmundstads have been out of livestock for about 20 years but raise feed grains that go elsewhere to feed animals.

The site is about 1.5 miles from the water in Devils Lake. It is less than a quarter-mile from a cemetery and within a mile of three neighbors. It is far enough from other hog production that it won't need filtering systems that protect the pigs from incoming air. It will have filters for outgoing air. Pipestone Systems will manage the farrowing operation for marketing the hogs, as it does at the Rolling Green Family Farms in Buffalo. Opponents of the Buffalo facility have challenged the health permit to the North Dakota Supreme Court and are awaiting a decision on whether the project will go through.

Eric says technology in nutrient and odor control has improved over the years but says people who "don't understand and don't want to understand" animal agriculture can hinder progress. He says he'd "bet any amount of money that the old outboard boat motors on that lake put more crap in that lake than this barn will ever put in that lake."

Some concerns

Lois Steinhaus, a retired nurse, and her husband, Clark, a maintenance worker at the airport in Devils Lake, live on a farmstead less than a mile away. They have pastureland and horses and rent out cropland. They have land that is now under the lake, and had to move their home to higher ground in 2014.

Clark Steinhaus is a Pelican Township officer and declines to comment. Lois is the appointed treasurer.

"All I'm asking is that there be a public meeting with the public to voice our concerns," she says. "I have asked them to do an on-site evaluation for this hog barn. I don't think that will happen, but I certainly hope we'll at least get our hearing."

Pelican Township has about 12 residents and is bordered by Grand Harbor township, which has campgrounds and residential subdivisions.

"With hog farms, the concern is smell, the environmental strain," Lois says.

The township used to have 30 miles of roads and now has six miles of roads because the rest are under water. The township gets a little more than $3,000 a year for road maintenance from taxes, and their summer contract with Ramsey County to blade roads is $2,300.

"We can't build roads that will take heavy semis bringing in feed, taking out piglets, or semis traveling roads to dump liquid manure on the fields," she says.

She's concerned about the proximity within a quarter mile to the old Norway Lutheran Cemetery, which has about 250 burial plots. Lois is worried about "a possible break in the system" and effect on the lake.

She is most concerned about potential runoff if liquid manure is pumped from the facility onto fields.

"We're hilly and what isn't hilly is in the lake," she says. "When they inject the manure into the land, the only restriction is they can't be less than 100 feet from the water, and they should do it on a day when it's not going to rain," she says.

Beyond that, Lois has gone online to read accounts of research finding "airborne multi-resistant bacteria" in hog farms.

"That terrifies me — airborne!" she says. "These barns are vented. It's going to go out. There is a health risk — to the workers, positively, and to the neighboring people."

The wrong place

Lois and her husband both grew up on farms that had pigs and other livestock, and they eat meat today.

"I'm not adverse to anybody farming or making a living off of their farm. I just have a problem with this hog barn where it's planned," she says. She says they do a "wonderful job" in a large hog facility at Cando, N.D., which she knows initially also faced opposition.

"I would assume probably every hog farm faces opposition," she says. "I know you have to raise hogs someplace, but the site of this one is disturbing."

Comments on the project can be directed to Karl Rockeman, (701) 328-5225 or Marty Haroldson, (701) 328-5234. Mail comments to the North Dakota Department of Health, Environmental Health Section, 600 East Boulevard Ave., Bismarck, N.D., 58505-0200.

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