Hog Farming is a part of NC's ecosystem
Publisher’s note: This story was originally scheduled to publish before Hurricane Florence. We will now have a follow up story on Hurricane Florence’s impacts to our agricultural community.
North Carolina is the second largest producer of hogs in the United States, with more than two million pigs in Duplin County alone. According to the North Carolina Pork Council, hogs are a $2.9 billion industry in the state, accounting for 46,000 jobs.
Hog farming and, in particular, the management of hog waste in North Carolina has made national news lately as Smithfield Hog Production Division faces 26 nuisance lawsuits, three of which have already returned guilty verdicts.
The lawsuits, filed by neighbors of several different Smithfield-owned farms in North Carolina, stated several complaints, including noise, flies and odors emanating from the farm’s waste management systems.
According to Eve Honeycutt, NC State Extension Agent for Greene and Lenoir counties, the current lawsuits are examples of the disconnect between urban and rural communities.
“Now more than ever, it is vital for farmers to tell their story and talk to their neighbor about the sights, sounds, and smells that come along with rural life,” she said. “A hungry world that demands affordable food has to trust the farmer and let him do his job as long as he is obeying the law.”
In response to the lawsuits, the General Assembly voted in June to override Governor Roy Cooper’s veto of the North Carolina Farm Act of 2018, which limits nuisance suits against livestock farmers to cases in which the farm is less than one year old or the farm has undergone major changes.
“This is nothing but an attempt by out-of-state trial lawyers to get themselves a big payday on the backs of hardworking North Carolinians,” said Rep. John Bell of the lawsuits. “That’s why I am fighting so hard and have been so vocal about this issue.”
Many of the farms implicated in the lawsuits utilize a lagoon and spray field system, in which open-air lagoons store liquefied hog waste, which they then use as fertilizer by spraying it over their crops.
This system allows crops and soil systems to treat the wastewater before it flows into the groundwater and reduces the need to mine for phosphorous to use in synthetic fertilizers.
However, there are some concerns about the use of lagoon waste management systems in regards to potential air and water pollution.
After lagoons in North Carolina flooded as a result of hurricanes in 1997, the state government enacted legislation stating new hog farms could not employ lagoon systems, but the legislation does not require farms to update or eliminate existing lagoons.
Regulations regarding hog farms and other livestock operations in North Carolina are some of the strictest in the country and include yearly inspections of the facility, a requirement only a few states have.
“The current regulations in North Carolina are vital to ensuring a healthy environment,” said Honeycutt. “Farm owners have to keep track of rainfall, irrigation, lagoon levels, crop yields and much more just to maintain their records”
Hog farming is just a part of the ecosystem of eastern North Carolina’s rich agricultural heritage, but it is an important one.
“People have been hog farming in our region for generations,” Bell said. “It is vitally important to our economy and serves as a lifeblood for small towns and rural communities across eastern North Carolina. This is a critical time for eastern North Carolina and it is important we have our farmers’ backs.”
Calls made to Rep. George Graham’s office were not returned.