Proposal that could expand hog farming, waste lagoons in Georgia draws fire from environmentalists

By David Pendered

A proposal that could increase the number of hogs farmed in Georgia is drawing criticism from environmentalists concerned about hog excrement.

Hog waste is piped into lagoons, where it is stored until it's sprayed on nearby land. Credit: jhenryfair.com

Hog waste is piped into lagoons, where it is stored until it’s sprayed on nearby land. Credit: jhenryfair.com

Hogs produce a lot of waste – about four times that of a human. The current practice for handling hog waste on industrial-scale farms is to store it in earthen basins, called lagoons, until it can be sprayed on surrounding lands.

The concerns raised by the Georgia Water Coalition involve the handling of this amount of waste in this manner. They point to the experience in North Carolina, where heavy rains from a hurricane in 1999 caused lagoons to flood and fail, spreading millions of gallons of hog waste that found its way into rivers and private water wells.

According to the water coalition, the proposal would increase the number of hogs that could be farmed with little oversight. The proposal would increase the number of hogs from 7,500 to 12,500 that could be farmed without the following safeguards:

  • Hog waste is spread across the land in an industrial hog farm. Credit: gapork.org

    Hog waste is spread across the land in an industrial hog farm. Credit: gapork.org

    Notice to neighboring land owners before operations begin;

  • Limits on open waste lagoons and spraying systems;
  • Facilities to have the financial resources to close old waste lagoons;
  • Stronger buffers between facilities and state waters, public water supplies, schools and occupied homes;
  • Restrictions on permitting operators who have multiple environmental law violations in the past.

A hearing on the proposal was conducted Friday in Atlanta. The state board of the Department of Natural Resources is slated to vote on the measure at its Dec. 3 meeting, which is to be held in the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, in Mansfield.

Hog farming in Georgia is hardly on the scale of North Carolina.

In the Tar Heel state, more 10 million hogs are farmed, according to a 2004 report from Duke University. In Georgia, there were 345,000 hogs and pigs in 2002, according to a 2006 report in the New Georgia Encyclopedia.

Hogs don’t get much attention from the University of Georgia’s Cooperative Extension. Unlike the websites on beef and poultry, which are big cash crops in Georgia and get larger descriptions, the website on swine is brief:

  • Hog housing is built adjacent to lagoons where waste is stored. Credit: takingstock.asas.org

    Hog housing is built adjacent to lagoons where waste is stored. Credit: takingstock.asas.org

    “Hogs have been raised in Georgia for personal and commercial uses since colonial times. Today, factors such as drought, economic pressure, and industry consolidation have combined to make pork production a relatively small contributor to the state’s agricultural revenues. Still, many farmers in Georgia rely on swine production for part of their income, and hogs continue to be a part of Georgia’s historic and current agricultural heritage.”

In the present economy, Georgia’s agricultural industry is looking for revenues in untraditional places. Wheat, for example.

Wheat has hardly been a traditional Georgia export product. But farmers have bet heavily on wheat this year, increasing the acreage committed to wheat production by 52 percent since last year – from 230,000 acres to 350,000 acres, according to the Georgia Ports Authority, citing figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The increased wheat production even fueled an increase in shipments through the state port in Brunswick, which expects to ship up to 100,000 tons this year. That’s a small portion of the nation’s average annual export of 20 million metric tons, but port officials noted that it represents jobs and farm revenues in Georgia.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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