GOLDEN CITY, Mo. (AP) — Missouri's pork industry wants to expand into international markets to boost prices, while at the same time its members are working to sell their neighbors and communities on the industry's economic impact back home.
Industry officials also are asking for federal stimulus money to compensate for losses, but some of their critics are saying federal money has been making matters worse for the farmers.
Hog producers and others met last week in Golden City, and said Congress needs to take up trade agreements that would open up countries such as Colombia and South Korea to U.S. pork exports. The meeting was part of the Missouri Agriculture Lunch & Learn Series conducted by groups emphasizing the importance of agriculture in local communities.
The hog industry is facing environmental and other challenges from groups that want regulators and federal agencies to clamp down.
A group of organizations collectively calling themselves the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment recently presented a petition to Tom Vilsack, U.S. agriculture secretary, asking for a suspension of federal loans for creating new hog and poultry operations in the country or expanding existing ones. They are arguing that the hog industry already suffers from overproduction.
In response, officials with the Missouri Pork Association want to underscore the pork industry's ties to local communities — especially economic ties.
"If you don't have a strong agriculture, you don't have a Golden City, you don't have a Lamar, you don't have a lot of cities (in Missouri)," said Don Nikodim, executive vice president and chief executive officer of the Missouri Pork Association, speaking in Golden City. "(Agriculture) is the No. 1 business in the state of Missouri.
The state ranks seventh in the country in pork production, Nikodim said, with a total economic impact of $1.1 billion in Missouri providing about 32,000 direct and supporting jobs.
And while opponents want the U.S. Department of Agriculture to tighten federal loans, livestock growers are asking for more federal help.
Recently, the Missouri Pork Association joined cattlemen, poultry growers and others in asking the state's congressional delegation to support its Meat the Need proposal. The groups are asking Congress to urge the president to reallocate stimulus funding to help them address what their letter called a "critical economic situation" for dairy, pork and poultry farmers.
"Currently, dairy producers are losing $5 a hundredweight (100 pounds) on their milk and pork producers are losing around $25 per hog," they claimed in their letter.
And Nikodim noted that the state requires discharge permits that hog growers must obtain and follow, and mandates environmental management plans that include how manure must be managed.
But not everybody thinks the economic impact is worth the environmental trade-off.
Synergy has been the subject of two different lawsuits over the past couple of years.
Residents of Richland Township in Barton County filed suit against Kenoma LLC in the summer of 2007. Kenoma is a farmer-owned company contracting with Synergy. Kenoma owns the structures and employs workers, while Synergy owns the hogs.
The suit alleged that the construction of the operation ran afoul of the township's zoning regulations, and residents sought injunctive relief. A judge denied that and a bid for the Supreme Court to hear an appeal was unsuccessful this year.
Last year, more than 30 people with homes in rural Barton County filed a nuisance lawsuit against Kenoma and Synergy regarding odors emanating from the operation. That case is set to go to trial next year in Henry County on a change of venue.
One of the plaintiffs in that case, Gregory Harris, is chairman of the Richland Township Planning and Zoning Board. He said he has heard Synergy's reports about economic impact before. Harris considers the information "just typical CAFO rhetoric."
"I don't see a lot of jobs created at all," he said.
As for the taxes paid, he said the amounts tend to be small compared with what is paid by residential property owners. Farm properties are assessed at 12 percent of their market value, compared with 19 percent for residential properties and 32 percent for industrial and commercial properties.
Harris also says the damage done to roads by the operation's trucks "far exceeds" any taxes it might pay.
While fighting battles locally, the pork industry as a whole has been battered by rising feed costs over the past couple of years and, more recently, by bans on U.S. pork by some countries in the wake of the H1N1 flu outbreak. China has recently indicated that it will lift its ban.
Nikodim, with the Missouri Pork Association, said the industry's profitability has been hurt over the past several years, principally because of the rising cost of feed, which in turn is linked with the price of oil and the price of ethanol.
But a few weeks ago, a coalition of groups including the Missouri Rural Crisis Center presented a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture seeking a suspension of Farm Service Agency direct and guaranteed loans to new or expanding specialized hog and poultry operations, citing overproduction and low market prices. The petition had more than 25,000 signatures and was advanced by the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment.
"We need action now by Secretary Vilsack and the Obama administration to turn off the spigot of public dollars, which is leading to production facilities in a sector of the economy with too many hogs, too many factory farms and too many months of overproduction and low prices," Matt Ohloff, rural organizer for Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, said in a statement.
The USDA, the groups claim, has purchased surplus pork in a bid to boost sagging prices brought about by the excess demand.
The Farm Service Agency has provided direct and guaranteed loans for new hog and poultry building construction totaling $264 million for the past two fiscal years, according to the Campaign for Family Farms and the Environment.
As for FSA loans, Nikodim said a number of those loan programs were put in place so farmers could get help in installing technology that is mandated by regulations.
A few weeks ago, the National Pork Producers Council asked the USDA to increase its pork purchases for various federal food assistance programs as well as asking Congress to lessen trade barriers with other countries.
Nikodim also highlighted the importance of the pending trade agreements with Colombia and South Korea. Agreements with those countries were proposed several years ago but have languished in Congress.
"Those folks in Congress haven't even voted on it," Nikodim said. "Those trade deals are huge. To me, that's almost a no-brainer."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are more than 3,000 hog farms in Missouri.