- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

SILVER LAKE, Ind. (AP) - Robert Sands grew up on a farm in Silver Lake.

He and his wife, Tammy, have been farming in Morgan Township for 20 years, growing their enterprise from 100 acres to 1,200 acres.

His son, Brandon, is in the agriculture program at Ivy Tech in West Lafayette and will be finished with school within the year. He would like to return to Morgan Township and work on his family’s farm.

Brandon, 23, went to a career fair where he met representatives from Belstra Milling in DeMotte, which owns and operates the Pig Adventure at Fair Oaks Farms. Now, the Sands family is proposing a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, on 40 acres along Smoke Road just south of County Road 150 South.

The proposal, which requires a land rezoning from general agriculture to high impact use because it needs a permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, is scheduled to go before the Porter County Plan Commission for a May 27 hearing.

The proposal makes some neighbors uneasy. Beyond concerns about how the animals will be treated in such tight quarters, they also worry about the smell from the farm cutting their property values and quality of life.

And beyond any controversy that may surround this proposal, CAFOs have not always been welcomed into communities.

A proposed CAFO in White County, which would house 9,000 hogs on seven acres a half-mile from the YMCA’s Camp Tecumseh facility, received unanimous approval from the Board of Commissioners there but sparked outrage and a lawsuit by the camp. The matter is now tied up in the courts, the Post-Tribune reported (https://trib.in/1FvQkS6 ).

In addition to CAFOs, high-impact use zoning also is used for minor league baseball stadiums, racetracks and generating stations, among other uses, Bob Thompson, the county’s planning director, has said. The facility would probably be the biggest hog CAFO in the county if it goes through, he’s added.

Two buildings would house a total of 5,600 hogs. The hogs would be provided by Fair Oaks after they are weaned and would remain on-site for six months before being shipped to market.

“This is his project but it’s also mine,” Sands said of his son. “It’s allowing us to look at expanding and bring him on board to stay with the family farm.”

That may not be enough to satisfy the neighbors.

Rebecca Tomerlin’s parents live nearby. Tomerlin, who lives in Valparaiso, said her father used to service mechanical pumps on farms and is well aware of the dangers of ammonia buildup, despite the technology promised for the two buildings to contain odors and waste.

“I’m just shocked they’re choosing an area so close to these nice subdivisions,” she said, adding residents in nearby homes and subdivisions were there first.

“Tell me those trucks with pigs are not going to tear up the roads or smell,” she said. “I don’t like factory farms, and my parents live nearby. It will affect property values.”

Sands said he expects trucks would run to the facility every six months to pick up hogs and drop off piglets. The trucks would be running to and from the south, where the population is minimal, he added.

The difference between a confined feeding operation and a CAFO, according to IDEM, is in the numbers. The threshold for a hog farm to be considered a CAFO is 2,500 hogs or more.

The two structures proposed for Sands’ land are 100 feet by 260 feet each, said Jon Hoek, vice president of pig production for Belstra Milling, calling the buildings “wean to finish barns.”

The hogs typically come in at 15 pounds and would stay at the farm until they are ready for market, he said, adding Belstra has similar facilities throughout the region and takes “a transparent approach” on how it does things.

Belstra has been contributing to the region’s economy for 61 years, he said. “This is just an extension of that.”

Manure would be contained in a storage area and later used as crop fertilizer. The facility would be completely enclosed to protect the hogs from weather and disease, with a temperature-controlled ventilation system.

Belstra is in the process of building several similar facilities.

“We could not tell the community that you wouldn’t know it was there,” Hoek said. “Like any business, there are going to be the activities of a farm, that people are going to know it will be there.”

Still, he doesn’t expect the facility to be a burden on the community or reduce property values.

“There is a fear of the unknown,” he said, adding other facilities have gone virtually unnoticed after they were built. “Will it impact the town of Valpo? No, not at all. We understand there’s a lot of emotion around these issues.”

The Sands family lives just north of where the hog operation would be built on 179 Smoke Road. Agricultural business is a sector for economic growth, and Sands said he and his son want to be part of that.

“We love it here and it’s our home, and hopefully we can make this work,” he said.

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Information from: Post-Tribune, https://posttrib.chicagotribune.com/

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