In recent weeks, confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have become a rallying cry of those opposed to the proposed rezoning of Franklin County.
Although the commercial farms have been allowed in the county for almost 20 years, they have been brought to the forefront of anti-rezoning as they, along with more than 40 other enterprises, would be allowed in about 90 percent of Franklin County.
At a public hearing last week, about two dozen people testified against the rezoning and half of those who testified cited CAFOs as a main concern. Some went as far as to ask the county commission to ban the large farming operations in Franklin County completely.
During the hearing, County Counselor Mark Piontek, at the request of Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker, informed the residents of legislation passed by the General Assembly that went into effect at the end of August, prohibiting cities or counties from placing heavier restrictions on CAFOs than those already in place by the state of Missouri.
Senate Bill 391, passed in May, was sponsored by State Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, and is currently being challenged in court.
As it was progressing through the legislative process, it was supported by Republican State Reps. Aaron Griesheimer, R-Washington; Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka; John Simmons, R-Krakow; and Nate Tate, R-St. Clair; as well as Senate President pro tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan.
The bill passed the House by a 103 to 44 margin and was passed in the Senate by a vote of 23 to 11.
The bill language states:
Under this act, any orders, ordinances, rules or regulations promulgated by county commissions and county health center boards shall not impose standards or requirements on an agricultural operation and its appurtenances that are inconsistent with or more stringent than any provisions of law, rules or regulations relating to the Department of Health and Senior Services, environmental control, the Department of Natural Resources, air conservation, and water pollution.
State Sen. Dave Schatz, who is the second highest ranking Republican in the Missouri Senate, said a lot of discussion and compromise went into Senate Bill 391.
“CAFO isn’t a dirty word,” Schatz said. “The food we eat every day doesn’t just magically appear at the grocery store. The people who oppose CAFOs enjoy the food they have available to them — just don’t do it in my neighborhood.”
Schatz added the bill needed to be passed at the state level to stop local municipalities from hurting statewide business.
“Agriculture is the No. 1 business in Missouri,” he said. “This bill was necessary to stop counties from passing ridiculously strict laws.”
As far as new CAFOs being located in Franklin County, Schatz said he’s pretty close to several agriculture groups and has no knowledge of anything on the horizon. He said it should not be a fear for residents opposed to the rezoning.
“Ninety-nine percent of things people worry about never come to pass,” he said. “They pick the scariest thing they can grab on to, and there is really no fear or reality to it.”
State Rep. John Simmons, R-Krakow, said SB 391 is a good, sensible bill with safeguards for the community and fairness to the farmers.
“As with many businesses we’ve seen, overregulation, or burdensome unequal regulation, can have a stifling impact on an industry, and the people who receive their livelihood in that industry,” he said. “Changes were needed to these operations because there were inconsistencies throughout the state by entities that impacted the operations and freedom our Missouri farmers have in operating their agricultural businesses, in this case CAFOs.”
Simmons reaffirmed county commissions or other county agencies simply cannot be more stringent than what was carved out in this overview of CAFOs that was studied and discussed through the legislative process in committee hearings, floor debate, Senate debate and ultimately the governor’s signature.
“From what I understand, our county commission is just reaffirming that standard we implemented,” he said “When a farming group, or farmer who incorporates his business, wants to move into an area or expand existing CAFOs, they invest a lot of money into the land purchase, equipment, safety and environmental upgrades, personnel costs. It’s damaging to our agriculture business environment if the rules by which they decide to invest suddenly change, and their dreams of success, support of their family, and community employment opportunities become voided.
“Compromise is often a word people like to hear when two opposing views and parties face off on an issue,” Simmons said.
Simmons added the bill puts in defined regulations for runoff setbacks, setbacks to streams, creeks, and the like.
It also requires Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to issue an operating permit before building such facilities. DNR has its own levels of protections for the environment and the people in those communities, including Franklin County, with which these entities have to operate, Simmons said.
“There still exists federal standards by which theses facilities operate under the direction of state DNR,” he explained.
State Rep. Nate Tate supported the bill and says Franklin County was not the focus. Instead, it was protecting farmers in the northern part of the state from local restrictions hurting commerce.
“Sometimes the state has to do things like this,” he said. “In many situations local laws are passed that make no sense and they impact business.”
Tate added when the bill was being discussed he relied on his northern colleagues in helping him to make the decision to vote in favor of it.
As far as the local rezoning in Franklin County, Tate says he doesn’t understand why CAFOs are such a focus.
“If things like this are already allowed, I don’t know if they have a leg to stand on,” he said. “There are lots of things that were allowed in the past, but aren’t allowed now and vice versa. I don’t know what the answer is.”
State Rep. Aaron Griesheimer also supported the bill and like his colleague, was of the understanding it would help farmers up north.
“I’ve met with constituents opposed to the rezoning and they keep talking about big-ag,” he said. “There is no big-ag in Franklin County. We have family-run farms.”
Griesheimer added he understands the fears residents may have, but at the same time there are no new commercial farms planned for the northeast region of the county.
“I tend to look at the rule of law and we have to protect everybody,” he said. “You have to ask, who was there first? The farmer or the homeowners? Agriculture is vital to Franklin, Osage and Gasconade counties. I feel Senate Bill 391 protects our family farms from government overreach.”
State Rep. Dottie Bailey, R-Eureka, says the Legislature passed SB 391 to protect farmers, agriculture and the food they produce.
“The opponents to this bill decried that large corporations own most of the Missouri farms, that simply isn’t true,” she said. “Less than 3 percent of farms in Missouri are large corporate farms.”
Bailey added this bill will definitely affect zoning as many counties’ ordinances zoned out our farmers.
“Prior to this bill being passed, 29 counties restricted agriculture operations through either health, zoning or zoning and planning ordinances,” she said. “Any movement that weakens our ag production in Missouri is something we needed to be very concerned about, both as a small business agriculture concern, but also a national security concern. We couldn’t let that happen and that’s why I fully supported the bill.”