Not so hog wild in Colorado

  • Hog in a cage

    National Pork Producers Council
  When D&D; hog farm moved its South Dakota-based operation to northeast Colorado, Sue Jarrett thought she was getting a good neighbor. What she got instead, she says, were overpowering smells and polluted water. "The odor is so sickening that at times it drives you back in your house," says Jarrett, who was born and raised on her family's ranch.

Now Jarrett has joined an unusual coalition of Colorado ranchers, farmers and environmentalists that support a ballot initiative to regulate large hog farms. D&D;, for example, is one of nearly 20 factory-style hog farms that have brought over a million hogs to Colorado's eastern plains since 1989. Colorado continues to draw hog farms like a magnet, says Carmi McLean of the nonprofit Clean Water Action, because the state has no enforceable laws regulating the hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste pigs produce each day.

"It's not the hogs themselves that scare me; it's the numbers," says Ralph Mercer, a Crowley County farmer with 700 hogs. "They will contaminate the groundwater so bad there'll be no water to drink in the state."

Mercer supports the citizens' ballot initiative that would require large hog operations to obtain permits, cover waste lagoons and provide quarterly water and soil quality reports. It would also require farmers to put up financial assurances, similar to damage deposits, so that when hog farms pollute, "taxpayers don't get stuck paying for the mess," says Dave Carter of the Farmers Union.

But Dave Luers of D&D; Farms says the expense of the proposed regulations would close him down. He and other hog farmers have come up with their own initiative, expected to also appear on November's ballot, which makes it illegal to single out and regulate one livestock species over another.

Melissa Elliot of the Farmers Union says its not surprising to see the swine industry putting up a fight. Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma and other states have already regulated large hog operations. "Colorado," she says, "is just about their last frontier." - Jennifer Chergo