OSBORNE — Jeanne Becker long has considered she and her husband Donnie have lived in a spot she called “heaven on earth.”
But if Solomon River Genetics is allowed to build a hog farm containing as many as 15,218 animals just 4,436.16 feet from her home, she will no longer think that.
“What’s it going to be, hell on earth?” she asked rhetorically.
Nearly 90 people turned out last week for a public hearing on a permit for the hog farm, which will be built 4 miles west of Osborne on a hill overlooking the South Fork of the Solomon River.
The meeting had to be changed from the Osborne Library to the town’s high school auditorium because of the promise of a big crowd.
Beforehand, attendees had predicted something of a free-for-all because of the opposition that had surfaced prior to the meeting.
Instead, just three people offered comments, one of whom was the engineer to completed the permit application.
With the lack of comments, the meeting lasted less than 30 minutes.
Becker isn’t giving up the fight, however, and plans to attend Monday’s Osborne County Commission meeting in the hope of securing commission support opposing the hog farm.
She’s also hoping a 2006 election will sway the commissioners and prevent Solomon River Genetics from being able to build the facility.
At last week’s hearing, Osborne County Clerk Vienna Janis testified Osborne County residents opposed, by a 611-391 margin, a proposal to permit corporate hog farms.
It’s still unclear if that vote means anything today, given the current law concerning where hog farms can be located.
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Those guidelines, however, are at least partly responsible for Beckers’s objection to the proposed facility.
In its permit application, Solomon River Genetics is proposing an expansion of an existing facility that will ultimate hold 15,218 hogs — 7,342 sows and another 7,876 pigs weighing less than 55 pounds.
But the numbers amount to just 3,724.4 animal units, a standard of measure used whether the facility houses pigs or beef and dairy cattle.
Another breeding pig or just six baby pigs would have put the pig farm into another category that would have prevented it from using the existing site.
Instead, they would have to abide by a 5,000 feet distance from existing homes.
While the hog farm is considered an expansion of an existing facility, the existing buildings have been torn down and will be buried on site. The only thing that will remain will be an outside earthen waste holding pond. A second pond will be filled in.
Three new buildings will be constructed, replacing seven buildings that had housed 1,920 pigs weighing more than 55 pounds and another 2,200 pigs weighing less than 55 pounds. The previous facility, which shut down about two years ago, was licensed to hold 988 animal units.
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In retrospect, Becker said she should have ticked of her list of questions for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment during the hearing, rather than simply submit a written list of the questions.
It was after the meeting, however, when she and her husband confronted one of the developers of the project about a comment she said he made at a meeting with area farmers about application of the hog waste to cropland.
Becker, and several other people, had not been invited to the meeting, but attended anyway. She said she voiced her opposition to the project and was told “not to get her skirt in an uproar.”
It’s unclear who the individual was, but it soured the Beckers on the project even more.
She objects to the idea that outside investors can come in and dramatically alter the landscape.
“I don’t think it’s fair for us to work our whole life and have these people come in and destroy it,” she said. “It’s corporate greed.”
It’s not just the smell that concerns her, although it is a big part of what she’s worried about.
During the course of the past two years, the Beckers have struggled to get by with the water they have available through a private well.
They’ve had to do dishes one day and laundry the next day, she said.
“We staggered our showers,” Becker said.
Conditions are better so far this year, she said, but that’s partly because their cattle are in pastures that have their own water.
They’ve had to haul water to cattle when they’re brought back home for the winter, she said.
“We bought our farm 40 years ago,” she said.
She’s also voiced apprehension about the people who are building the hog farm, which has only been identified as a limited liability company in Carthage, Ill.
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The Illinois connection, said Solomon River Genetics principal executive officer Joe Kramer, is the management company that will handle day-to-day operations.
The land and some of the pigs will be owned by Seneca-based J-Six Farms, which has a number of agricultural operations in several states, including Kansas.
J-Six also has submitted an application for a permit to build a facility southwest of Barnes in Washington County to house 2,490 pigs weighing more than 55 pounds.
The rest of the pigs born at the Osborne facility will be sold in Iowa and Kansas.
J-Six farms, Kramer said, has more than 15,000 sows, producing more than 320,000 pigs per year in the three-state area of Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas.
Kramer also was surprised so few comments were made at the hearing, aware of some opposition to the farm.
“That’s always the case in anything you want to do,” he said. “People don’t want you to do it.”
Kramer said the hog farm will create anywhere from 21 to 23 jobs, although they will be employees of the management company rather than J-Six Farms.
Construction, he said, won’t begin until after the permit is in hand.
Pigs will start being produced on the site beginning in April or May.
Kramer said the pig farm represents a $15 million investment, capable of producing 115,000 pigs a year.
He’s confident the facility will get a license, even with the vote against corporate hog farms.
“We are in compliance with county and state rules,” Kramer said.