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Study questions local economic impact of factory farms

BUFFALO, N.D. - A proposed 9,000-pig factory farm in Cass County will benefit the local economy, the company behind it says, but critics have some doubts about how much.

2354814+Pigs.jpg
Pigs. iStockphoto.com

BUFFALO, N.D. – A proposed 9,000-pig factory farm in Cass County will benefit the local economy, the company behind it says, but critics have some doubts about how much.

Rolling Green Family Farms expects to employ 17 full-time workers and generate an annual payroll of more than $1 million a year.

Related: Opponents claim Buffalo hog farm 'not done in daylight,' as state ag officials knew year in advance

The planned hog farm, which would be located 2 miles southeast of Buffalo in rural Cass County, would produce an estimated $6 million a year in piglet sales and $600,000 a year in sow sales for its owners, mostly farmer-investors from Minnesota and Iowa.

The swine farm also would buy significant supplies, including an estimated $2 million in feed as well as $170,000 in electricity and $50,000 in propane, according to figures released by Pipestone Holdings, the company behind Rolling Green Family Farms.

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Investment of $15 million for real estate and $4 million in livestock will be required to build the swine farm.

"When we spend $15 million in a community, the one-time impact alone is significant," said Barry Kerkaert, vice president of Pipestone Holdings. Employees spending their paychecks from the $1 million payroll also will benefit the area's economy, he said.

"They are going to spend it somewhere," Kerkaert said. "How can that not be good?"

State Department of Agriculture officials recruited the swine farm as part of an effort to expand the state's livestock industry, which lags far behind neighboring states, as an important economic development step.

But critics cite studies showing the economic results of large livestock operations are mixed or even detrimental when other costs are considered.

One of the skeptics is Randy Coon, an agribusiness researcher at North Dakota State University who has spoken as a private citizen against the project, which would be located about 2 miles from his family's farm.

Coon, noting that there are three unit-train loading facilities nearby, said many of the inputs for the hog farm likely would come from outside the region. He said local purchases of corn wouldn't boost the economy, arguing they wouldn't bring new money into the community.

He also said profits would go to absentee owners. On the other hand, "The additional truck traffic on township roads will require upgrades and maintenance at a time when their budgets are already stressed," Coons wrote in comments to the state Department of Health, which will decide whether to grant a permit for the hog farm. "This facility would most likely result in tax increases for local residents."

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Curt Stofferahn, a sociologist at the University of North Dakota, compiled a review of research of the social and economic effects of industrialized agriculture in 2006. He found evidence that counties with greater industrialized farming, including large livestock operations, had higher poverty rates and higher income inequality.

On the other hand, studies cited by Stofferahn's review, compiled for the state of North Dakota for a lawsuit over its restrictive corporate farming law, found that moderate-sized family farming was related to lower poverty rates.

Concentrated animal feeding operations tended to increase social conflict and personal as well as community stress, according to a study cited by Stofferahn.

Rolling Green Family Farms employees, including managers, will be active members of the community and will not put strains on the community or social fabric, Kerkaert said.

"They will be a proud part of the community, and they'll contribute to the community," he said.

Related Topics: CASS COUNTYBUFFALOLIVESTOCK
Patrick Springer first joined The Forum in 1985. He covers a wide range of subjects including health care, energy and population trends. Email address: pspringer@forumcomm.com
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