Purdue study: CAFO impacts a mixed bag in communities


Large-scale animal production in eight Indiana counties is carried out by a mostly younger, educated work force and seldom violates state environmental regulations.

However, fiscal and zoning issues surrounding confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) are more complicated, according to a study by four Purdue University researchers.

“Community Impacts of Confined Animal Feeding Operations” examined 50 CAFOs in Benton, Cass, Huntington, Jasper, Jay, Randolph, Wabash and Wells counties, which have the largest concentration of the animal facilities in the state. The 2007-08 study looked at demographics, labor, impacts on local government budgets, environment violations, and county planning and zoning.

The four-member Purdue research team will present the full study tonight (June 18) in a statewide broadcast carried live at Purdue Extension offices and other locations in 21 Indiana counties.
CAFOs are livestock production operations where hundreds or thousands of animals are raised in buildings or similar enclosed facilities. There are approximately 645 CAFOs operating in Indiana.

“The expansion of CAFOs in Indiana has been controversial. The purpose of this research was to learn more about the issues and the impact of CAFOs on local communities,” said Janet Ayres, an agricultural economist and research team leader.

Ayres said the study, funded entirely by Purdue Extension and the university’s College of Agriculture, only focused on swine and dairy CAFOs. Researchers interviewed CAFO operators and county government and highway officials and pored over county tax documents and environmental records. Findings present a snapshot of the confined feeding segment of Indiana’s animal agriculture industry and are not intended to represent the industry as a whole, Ayres said.

About a third of the CAFO operators within the eight counties studied were interviewed. On average, the operators are a young and well-educated group compared to the general farming population, said Roman Keeney, an agricultural economist. Most reported the process for selecting a location for their operation – commonly called siting – as not being problematic, he said.

“A majority of surveyed operators reported that they faced little in the way of opposition in the siting process, although some operators indicated their siting process was opposed by individuals or organized groups,” Keeney said. “Evaluating their reception since beginning operation, 80 percent of surveyed operators rate community response as mostly positive or all positive.”

Surveys indicated that CAFO operators make large feed and supplies purchases both locally and within Indiana and make greater use of hired labor than typical farm operations, Keeney said. Wages average $12.38 per hour, compared to an average farm wage of $8.50 an hour.

“This hired labor runs the gamut from hired managers to part-time help, with wages that tend to be higher than average agricultural wages and comparable to county averages,” he said.

On the environmental front, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management cited 39 rules violations at animal feeding operations in the study counties over a 13-year period ending in 2008. Fifteen of those were issued to CAFOs.

Twenty-five of the violations occurred during manure application on cropfields.

“Environmental violations by CAFO operations were uncommon,” said Tamilee Nennich, an animal scientist. “In the counties in the study, less than 1 percent of CAFOs were cited for water quality violations. There was also little evidence to suggest that the size or type of operation predicts an increase in the chance of an environmental violation occurring.”

Operators with rules violations paid fines ranging from $1,000 to $25,000, with most between $5,000 and $10,000, Nennich said.

The impact of CAFOs on local government budgets and taxes was mixed, said Larry DeBoer, an agricultural economist.

“An analysis of county taxes and budgets shows that some CAFOs generate enough added tax revenue to cover the added costs they create, and some do not,” DeBoer said. 

Part of the CAFO tax bills provide tax relief for existing taxpayers, he added.

Zoning and land-planning issues were even more complex. While all eight counties have zoning ordinances that apply to land use, there are differences in how each county approaches CAFOs, Ayres said.

“It ranges from making decisions on a case-by-case basis to clearly defined development standards and land-use zones,” she said.

The two-hour broadcast will be recorded and available for viewing online Friday (June 19) by logging onto http://www.agecon.purdue.edu/extension/programs/cafo.asp.

In addition, the research team is writing Extension publications based on the study. Those publications will appear on the Purdue CAFO Web site at http://www.ansc.purdue.edu/CAFO/.

For more information, contact Ayres at 765-494-4215, ayres@purdue.edu; Keeney at 765-494-4253, rkeeney@purdue.edu; Nennich at 765-494-4823, tnennich@purdue.edu; or DeBoer at 765-494-4314, ldeboer@purdue.edu.