THURSDAY, DECEMBER 6, 2012
Hog: Corporate hog farms formerly needed vote of the public Continued from Page 1A
ment projects would be viewed as a conflict to all but the most naive observers. He said the new law signed by Gov. Sam Brownback jeopardized smaller, independent swine operators by opening the gate wider to America’s largest pork-producing corporations. The Republican governor made growth in hog farming part of his rural economic development agenda. Schwartz, 72, has invested decades in a career as a manager of Schwartz Family Farms and of Pork Chop Acres in Washington County. Her neighbors sent her to the Legislature in 1996. In the Statehouse, she became a reliable foe of bills seeking to hand county governments authority to regulate hog farm odor or waste disposal. Environmentalists say large confined animal operations have potential to pollute water and air. Schwartz once countered city slickers by proposing Kansas
county governments pay any cost incurred by a swine producer to comply with heightened regulations. “I question their expertise to decide what is right for an industry,” Schwartz said. State law formulated in the 1980s allowed only family farm corporations, limited liability agricultural companies, family trusts and similar entities to acquire or lease agriculture land in Kansas. In the 1990s, Kansas law was amended to permit corporate hog and dairy facilities to locate if approved by the host county. Each county commission held power to approve a corporate dairy, with the decision subject to a subsequent protest petition that could lead to a countywide vote. All corporate hog facility proposals, however, had to first earn preliminary approval on a countywide ballot before commissioners took up the issue. In most instances, voters in rural Kansas — no strangers to life
around livestock or agriculture’s economic role in society — turned up their noses to introduction of corporate swine operations. When emotions on the issue burned brightest in the 1990s, the vote in 19 counties was 47,000 against corporate hog farming to 13,000 in favor of these operations. “That has stopped quite a few companies,” said Tim Stroda, president of the Kansas Pork Association. Schwartz said it wasn’t fair for prospective corporate hog interests to undergo a different review than business peers in corporate dairying. The 2012 Legislature, acting on House Bill 2052 recommended by the Kansas Department of Agriculture and touted by Schwartz, agreed to repeal the county vote mandate for hog facilities. Under the new standard in Kansas, potential corporate dairy and hog producers must seek a permit from the county commission. The commission decides whether to
issue a permit. Approval or rejection is subject to the public protest petition. If 5 percent of eligible voters sign a petition within 60 days, the question will be resolved by a public vote in the county. “The provisions contained in HB 2502 will better position Kansas in the animal agriculture industry by making it less complicated to approve and establish a swine production facility in the state,” Schwartz said. Schwartz downplayed her advocacy role for the bill passed 9826 by the House and 35-4 by the Senate. She offered committee testimony in the Capitol in favor of the measure and rallied colleagues to support the change. “I really wasn’t the instigator,” said Schwartz, who won re-election in November to another term in the House. Prior to legislative action on the bill, Schwartz was convinced the state’s corporate farm law was unconstitutional. She requested, but later withdrew, a request for a legal
opinion on the subject by the Kansas attorney general. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled corporate farming restrictions in Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota to be unconstitutional. Kansas is in the Denver-based 10th Circuit, where court rulings on agriculture law could differ. Schwartz and her allies opted for a legislative, rather than judicial, remedy in Kansas. Teske, of the Kansas Farmers Union, said the new Kansas corporate hog law was designed to create winners and losers in the business. The Schwartz Family Farms might benefit, he said, while others suffered. “There is a conflict of interest,” said Teske, a vocal advocate of independent livestock and crop operations. Schwartz said there was no problem because the new state law wouldn’t provide immediate financial benefit to her family. “Not currently. It wouldn’t make any difference,” she said.
Schwartz’s business interests in crop farming and livestock production aren’t modest. In the past, the family farm operation has fallen on hard times. Sharon Schwartz and her husband, Leo, entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2003. In 2000 and 2001, Schwartz had sought approval of a House bill calling on the state to authorize issuance of $50 million in taxpayersubsidized low-interest loans to struggling family farmers in Kansas. It didn’t pass the Legislature. Prior to the 2012 Legislature's approval of the corporate farming reform, residents of Greeley County — the state’s smallest — took matters into their own hands. They voted to allow corporate hog farms in their midst. Advocates spoke of potential job growth, expansion of the property tax base and a chance to attract new families to the area. The Seaboard project, however, will generate only about a dozen jobs for the county.