Setting the record straight on Sibley County pig barn projects

To the editor:

I am writing in response to a recent letter and article in this newspaper regarding two proposals to build hog barns in Sibley County. Unfortunately, both the letter and the article included factual misstatements about these projects. Pig farmers welcome an open and public dialogue, but encourage these discussions be based on accurate facts.

With that said, here are the facts regarding the proposed barn projects in Sibley County. It was stated that these two barns (on separate sites) are actually a single project that is being proposed by Christensen Farms. Instead, Bryan Sommer is proposing to build one barn on one parcel of land, and Nathan Sommer (not, as this paper recently reported, Brent Sommer) is separately proposing to build another barn on a different parcel of land. The barns will be separated by more than 3,800 feet (nearly æ of a mile). Each of these barns will have a capacity of 299 animal units (not, as this paper recently reported, 600 animal units). While Bryan and Nathan are brothers, each of them is a local farmer who is seeking to improve their existing farms and livelihoods by adding pigs. The barns will be owned and operated independently and located on different land.

Further, these projects are proposed to be constructed in areas of Sibley County that are zoned for agriculture and meet all setback requirements. Agriculture including pork production has long been a critical part of the fabric of our rural communities, providing the backbone to support the economy, and ultimately provides food for our communities, statewide and globally. If we are not going to allow farmers to build hog barns in these areas, then where?

Finally, opponents of these projects also recite unsupported opinions about dangerous emissions and odors that they fear will be generated by the barns. The experiences that have been cited to substantiate these opinions all involve events that occurred 30-plus years ago. In fact, pig farmers have made considerable improvements and investments over the past 30 years in scientific research and have applied the lessons of this research to improve production practices, including animal care, environmental stewardship, people safety and food safety to ensure they do what s best for pigs, people and planet. One specific change includes improved manure storage and application practices and odor control technologies. Farmers take great pride in being good neighbors, and these projects should be assessed based on the modern practices that will be implemented and not purported problems experienced 30 years ago. Before concluding, it is important to recognize that in the past 50 years, the American pork industry has made significant reductions in overall environmental footprint, reducing water usage by 41 percent and land use by 78 percent.

In short, these proposals to construct two hog barns in Sibley County will provide an opportunity for two family farms to diversify their farming operations to provide a stable income source in these challenging economic times in agriculture without imposing burdens on their neighbors. I strongly encourage everyone to support the conditional use permits for these projects.

David Preisler

CEO, Minnesota Pork