On Aug. 25, “A Cargill pig operation is contradictory” commented on our contract hog farm in northwest Arkansas. I would like to provide readers with Cargill Pork’s perspective.
The farm is owned by three local families who have resided in rural northwest Arkansas for eight generations, farmed the land for half a century and raised hogs for more than a decade. They grew up near the mountain community of Mount Judea, learning to swim in local creeks and fish in local ponds, all the while producing food for others.
Mount Judea is nestled in a portion of the state that forms the backdrop for the Buffalo National River, a treasured waterway that became America’s first national river in 1972. Much of the river’s watershed is part of National Park Service land, and agriculture, including hog farming, has taken place in the watershed long before there was a park. Today, cattle ranches, poultry barns, hog operations and crop fields dot the landscape.
In 2013, with a state-approved permit in hand, the three families of C&H expanded their hog production by building a farm incorporating the latest design elements, including environmental safeguards exceeding state or federal government requirements. The farm houses 2,500 Cargill-owned sows and up to 4,000 piglets. The piglets stay on the farm for about 21 days before being weaned and transported to farms outside Arkansas to be raised for pork.
Objections to the farm surfaced because of its number of hogs and the manure they generate. More hogs lived in the area 10 years ago, albeit spread across 11 farms that didn’t have the benefit of today’s waste-handling technology. C&H is the lone remaining area hog farm, and the family owners earn their livelihoods producing hogs for Cargill.
The potential for hog manure being released into a creek and traveling 6 miles to the Buffalo River, or getting into underground water from use as crop fertilizer, are the concerns. Porous subsurface geology is common in Arkansas and nearby states with large numbers of hog farms, yet the type of catastrophic event envisioned by those who are concerned has never occurred.
Because of these issues, the state allocated resources for the University of Arkansas to monitor water quality in tributaries to the Buffalo River and in the river itself. Additionally, fields where manure is spread on crops are being monitored, and leak detection equipment has been installed at the farm’s waste-holding ponds. C&H is cooperating with the state and university.
The most recent University of Arkansas findings of naturally occurring bacteria in local waterways show no indication that C&H has impacted the river. Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spent three days on the farm, and its report indicated that nothing noteworthy was found. C&H has been a model farm for the more than a year it’s been operating.
Cargill understands the importance of being environmental stewards who protect and conserve resources used to produce food. Last spring, our Cargill Pork leadership team embarked on an outreach effort in Arkansas and met with many people and organizations to hear from them regarding concerns about the farm.
We listened, and learned about the passion for the Buffalo River. We came away believing all sources impacting Buffalo River water quality, present and future, must be addressed. We are working with C&H to further enhance the environmental safeguards already in place. Synthetic liners and covers will be added to manure ponds; we have implemented a permanent moratorium on hog facility expansion in the watershed, and we support the state’s approach for making decisions based on science and facts.
At Cargill Pork we believe various uses of land, water and other resources can continue to successfully coexist in the Buffalo River watershed, as they have for generations, and we feel it is equally important for people to have the facts.
Mike Luker is president of Cargill Pork.