Montgomery County CAFO Task Force - Citizen Follow-up

November 5, 2019

Margo Tucker, Assistant Director of the Downstream Project

Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund 



Property Values

A 2010 report by the Indiana Business Research Center (IBRC) conducted a study to find out if proximity to a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) or a confined feeding operation (CFO) affected property values.  The IBRC selected Decatur, Hancock and Shelby counties for this study and employed two methods of investigation: “(1) a survey of real estate professionals and other community leaders to ascertain their perception about the effect that regulated livestock operations (RLOs) have on property values, and (2) statistical analysis using real estate transactions data to quantify the effect, if any, that RLOs had on real estate prices.”


The IBRC found that regulated livestock feeding operations (RLOs) had a negative impact on the property values of nearby town residential properties. The surveyors also pointed out that the extent of the impact varied depending on livestock concentration, distance to the closest RLO, and the prevailing wind direction. For town residential properties, having the closest RLO upwind of the residence reduced the sale price by $4,980.00 and if the closest RLO contained dairy cattle, the sale price was further reduced by $32,340.00 for every 100 mature head. Additionally, the IBRC found that a town residential property lost, on average, $140.00 in sale price for every 100 mature hogs if the RLO was one mile away. By reducing property values in rural communities, CFOs can erode its tax base, leave homeowners at a financial loss, and possibly prevent homeowner relocation altogether. 


This study shows that property value reduction is not an unsubstantiated fear, but a reality. In order to sidestep this issue, we recommend that adequate setbacks be put in place and that those setbacks be measured from property line to property line, rather than from structure to structure. The property rights of farmers and homeowners alike should be fully respected and protected through the County’s zoning ordinance. 


Health Hazards

As Soybean Alliance representative Andy Tuaer once stated, “these aren’t our grandparent’s farms.” Factory farming creates new health threats for workers and nearby residents. The American Public Health Association has called for a nationwide moratorium on CAFOs, citing more than 40 scientific reports indicating health concerns related to CAFOs.   The Director of the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health testified before a U.S. congressional committee, warning of the environmental and health risks associated with CAFOs.  Professor of Agricultural & Applied Economics at the University of Missouri, John Ikerd, wrote “[t]hose who deny the existence of sound science indicating significant human health risks are either completely misinformed or have a concept of science that is simply too narrow to address the actual health risks of CAFOs.” 


A North Carolina health study found that residents living near hog CAFOs reported more confusion, tension, depression, and fatigue than other residents.  Another study found that children who attended school within ½ mile of a CAFO had a 19.7% chance of being diagnosed with asthma, while schools located as far as 10 miles away only had a 7% chance.  These studies demonstrate the need to institute meaningful CAFO setbacks from homes and schools. 


CAFOs may bring jobs to communities, but those jobs come at a cost. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, occupational asthma, bronchitis, and organic dust toxic syndrome can be as high as 30% in factory farm workers.  For pig CAFOs, the percentage of workers suffering respiratory illness rises to 70%The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality found that, as a result of high levels of particulate matter in CAFOs, workers suffer chronic respiratory disorders, exacerbation of asthma, cardiovascular complications and even premature death.  Ammonia levels as low as 6ppm can also cause respiratory problems for CAFO workers by damaging the cilia of the throat, allowing inhaled particulate matter to travel deeper into the respiratory tract.  However, one of the most dangerous byproducts of factory farming is hydrogen sulfide gas, which can cause instantaneous asphyxiation. This deadly gas is created by the anaerobic conditions of manure lagoons. Hydrogen Sulfide took the lives of two workers employed at the Faria & Sons dairy CAFO in California.  One of the workers tried to clear a blockage in a manure pit pump and was asphyxiated by an outburst of hydrogen sulfide gas.  A co-worker attempted to save him but suffered the same fate.  These jobs force many workers to sacrifice their health in order to achieve financial security.


The linear business model of CAFO operations is also unfair to the CAFO operators. According to the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, “…the grower often has little market power and may not be able to demand a price high enough to cover the costs of waste disposal and environmental degradation. These environmental costs are thereby “externalized” to the general society and are not captured in the costs of production nor reflected in the retail price of the product.”  Therefore, rural communities end up footing the bill for the environmental degradation that inevitably results from the factory farming model; a model that prioritizes economic efficiency over safety. 


St. Joseph County Setback System

Similar to the Henry County model, the St. Joseph County zoning ordinance takes into account the size of the operation when assigning CAFO setbacks. For example, a CAFO with 3,000 animal units*  must be 1,750 feet from a residence, 3,500 feet from a residential zoned district, and 7,000 feet from a municipality.  The setback distance goes up each additional 1,000 animal units. This makes sense because the size of the operation plays a direct role in the amount of waste, air emissions, and odor produced, as well as the risks of runoff and water contamination. The ordinance also has a system in place to award operators who adopt certain best practices. 


The standard setback can be reduced if the operation satisfies a list of additional criteria.

(1) Reduced setbacks apply only to those CAFOs that meet the following requirements: 

(a) The operation shall have no lagoons or other open air structures that contain manure or liquids that have contacted manure. 

(b) All manure storage shall be contained in structures that prevent precipitation and surface runoff from contacting the manure and shall be entirely covered by a low-permeability cover that reduces the release of off-gases. 

(c) All feed storage shall be contained within structures that prevent precipitation and surface runoff from contacting the feed and shall be entirely covered by a low-permeability cover except for a working face which may remain open. 

(d) All unauthorized releases of manure and liquids that have contacted manure or feed, including any spillage, shall be immediately cleaned up so that releases to the ground do not become a source of air emissions or soil or water contamination. 

(e) Any manure that is applied to land within the residential setback which is also within 1,000 feet of a residence shall be incorporated into the soil within 24 hours of application. 


In addition, the St. Joseph County Ordinance contains a clause that ensures the protection of public health in their community. It states, “[r]egardless of the setback of any CAFO, it shall be a violation of this chapter for any CAFO to operate in a manner that becomes a threat to public health.”   We believe that aspects of the St. Joseph County Model are worthy of consideration going forward. 


Water Quality

81% of Indiana’s stream miles are impaired with unsafe concentrations of pathogens, including e-coli. Counties should work to reverse this trend by passing CAFO zoning ordinances that reduce the likelihood of contamination, such as: discouraging the construction of CAFOs in a floodplain, not allowing operators to apply CAFO manure to frozen ground, and requiring vegetative buffers between CAFOs and county waterways. The red lines in the image indicate impaired Indiana waterways. 



Montgomery County Comprehensive Plan 

The Montgomery County Comprehensive Plan places a heavy emphasis on protecting natural resources and property values in the county. One of the plan’s guiding principles is: “[e]ncourage natural resource protection and conservation by promoting recreational uses and tourist attractions that bring visitor investments into the county and the region.”  In fact, the Comprehensive Plan states that, out of all the county’s assets, “natural resources and recreation facilities tend to draw the most visitors.”  One of the universally mentioned points of feedback from the public as part of the creation of the Montgomery County Comprehensive Plan, was the need to protect and promote the natural resource assets of the county.


Items such as wetlands, rivers and streams, floodplains and open spaces are a tremendous asset for the county. These assets elevate not only the quality of place of Montgomery County, but of the entire region. They are also significant tourism draws supporting the local economy. 


Another piece of public input in the plan, was the creation of a list of undesired development in the county. CAFOs were listed, along with landfills and heavily polluting industrial, as a kind of unwanted development that is in the county.  On the flipside, natural resources such as lakes, wildlife, and parks were listed as a key reason why Montgomery County residents have chosen to live here.  Residents feel that the County needs to improve upon the way it protects its key natural resources going forward.  In addition, residents expressed that they want to protect and grow property values in the county. 


We will close by sharing a final quote from the Montgomery County plan: “[c]ommunities that fail to plan actually plan to fail. Good strategic community planning is critical if the benefits of scarce resources are to be maximized in the most productive and efficient way and the community’s desires for itself are to be realized.”  Indiana counties like Montgomery should not shy away from strong planning and zoning when it comes to CAFOs. The residents made clear during the planning process that they strongly value this county’s natural resource assets and the economic draw of those county assets speak for themselves. This task force gets to steer the way forward for this county. Adopting a strong CAFO zoning ordinance would be the best way to honor the guidelines, intentions, and public opinions laid out in the Montgomery County Comprehensive Plan. 



*  An animal unit (AU) is a standard unit used in calculating the relative grazing impact of different kinds and classes of livestock. One animal unit is defined as a 1,000 lb beef cow with or without a nursing calf, with a daily dry matter forage requirement of 26 lb.

Latest on Twitter

Current Campaigns

These are the issues of immediate importance we are working on right now.