CoastLine: Hog Farming in NC - Farm Families and Environmental Justice

Apr 27, 2016

North Carolina is the second largest pork producer in the United States.  Hog farming in the state is largely concentrated in the southeastern region – which includes Duplin, Wayne, and Pender counties and part of Sampson County.  According to the 2012 U.S. Agriculture Census, North Carolina sold nearly $3 billion in pork products that year; of that, Duplin County was responsible for north of $600 million and Sampson County came in second in pork sales with more than $500 million.   Looking beyond sales to the industry as a whole, the North Carolina Pork Council puts the economic impact at $11 billion.  

But it’s a complicated industry.  And it’s currently the focus of a complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency against the state agency that regulates hog farming -- what is now North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality. 

Guests:

Ed Emory, President, North Carolina Farm Families 

contact:  ed@ncfarmfamilies.com

Elizabeth Haddix, Senior Staff Attorney, UNC Center for Civil Rights, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

http://blogs.law.unc.edu/civilrights/category/environmental-justice/

contact: emhaddix@unc.edu

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Rachel Lewis Hilburn: How many hog farms are there in the state?

Ed Emory: Right now, Rachel, we have 2,100 farms that are permitted to grow hogs in North Carolina.

RLH: And, of those, how many would you characterize as family farms?

Ed Emory: Eighty percent of the hog farms in North Carolina are family farms. That means they’re owned by a farmer and his family. It’s their land, their housing. They take care of the animals, and they take care of the environment. They produce a very good quality food product.

RLH: And so what is the difference—because when a lot of people think of a family farm, they might be thinking of a guy with twenty hogs, and those hogs are running around green pastures or a field—but that is not the center of the industry here. Can you describe how it works, how these farmers work with the big pork producers?

Ed Emory: Yes, I can, and thank you, Rachel. Hog farmers, when they decided to become hog farmers, had to be permitted by the state of North Carolina—a very extensive process—and, in doing that, they had to prove that they had enough land, that they had enough water, and that it was a suitable site for the construction of a hog farm. Let me just tell you a story about that, if I could. My friend James over in Sampson County, when he wanted to get into the hog industry—he was in college at NC State, his father had recently passed away—and in order to keep their farm, their family farm, they realized that there was an opportunity to grow pigs, but to do so, he had to go out and first, it started with a soil test. He had to prove to the state of North Carolina what kind of soil he had, and then he had to conduct more studies to decide what crops could be grown there and how much fertilizer was required for those crops to be grown on that land.

RLH: What does growing crops have to do with a hog farm?

Ed Emory: Well, that’s interesting, and thank you for asking that. Part of the waste management system of a hog farm is that we apply liquid waste in a dilute form to an actively growing crop. And so, to get a permit, back in the 1990s, James had to prove to the state that he had enough land to grow a crop that could absorb the amount of waste, of fertilizer from the waste, that he was putting on the crop, and that was determined by agronomists at NC State working with regulators, that allowed him to have that permit.

RLH: When you’re talking about all the permitting that goes on, this is something that has evolved over the years. If you take a snapshot of the last 50 years, the hog farming industry has changed significantly. Can you talk about how it’s changed over the last several decades?

Ed Emory: Yes, I can, and I’m glad you asked me that because I’ve witnessed it. I’ve been in Duplin County for my entire professional career. I’ve lived there 31 years, worked with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service. And so I saw firsthand how this industry developed and how it grew and when it grew. The major growth was in the 1980s to the mid-1990s. And in 1997, the state of North Carolina had a moratorium on the construction of new farms. So no new farms have been permitted or expanded in North Carolina since 1997.

RLH: Why is that?

Ed Emory: The moratorium was put in place because there was rapid expansion of the hog industry at that time, and the regulators and legislators felt that it would be prudent to do so. The industry has thrived since then, but it still maintains that same size of the permits in 1997.

RLH: And so how does a hog farm work? And if we’re talking about one of the larger, one of the contract growers, which you also might characterize as a family farm, how many hogs are we talking about?

Ed Emory: They are family farms, and the number of hogs depends on what type of farm they have, but they have an arrangement with the hog companies on how many hogs they can grow and what type of hogs they can grow. It may be a nursery where they grow little pigs up to a certain size, or it may be a finishing floor where they grow hogs up to market weight. But they have an arrangement with the hog companies, these family farmers, to grow the pigs for the companies, and then they are in turn reimbursed for that.

RLH: And so if someone has never been to one of these farms in North Carolina before, what does it look like? And when you’re talking about building a hog farm, you talked about growing crops to use up the waste that comes out of these facilities. Where do the pigs live? What does that look like? How does it work?

Ed Emory: Well, thank you. I think the thing that strikes most people when they go up to a hog farm for the first time is how clean it is. And again, these are farms owned by families, so it’s their land and they want to make sure that it’s done correctly. Everything is very clean. The hogs are grown inside of a building. It has open air. It has heat in the winter time, and it’s cooled in the summer time. Also, as part of that system, there is a lagoon and spray field system that the waste water from the house is pumped into a lagoon. Now, this lagoon is scientifically-engineered. It’s lined with clay. There are anaerobic processes that go on in a lagoon that treat the waste.

RLH: And what does that mean?

Ed Emory: That means that these processes go on and it actually eats some of the waste up. So what is applied to the land is a weak solution. But every farmer in North Carolina that has a hog farm has to—six times a year—sample what they are pumping out of their lagoon onto their own land, send it to a state lab to have it analyzed, so that they can be assured that what they are spraying does not go over the limit that they are allowed based on the agronomic rates.

RLH: Now, North Carolina Farm Families, this advocacy group of which you are president, is a relatively new organization. You’ve said that it’s not part of the Pork Council. Why did this group form?

Ed Emory: This group was formed last summer in order to get the facts out about North Carolina hog farming families. They had been much maligned. Attacks have been brought against farmers. Quite frankly, we were just ready to get the truth out, and we knew that no one was going to tell our story for us. So we formed an organization that could do so.

RLH: You say that this has been a much-maligned industry. What are the allegations that you feel are not true that have come out, that you want to combat?

Ed Emory: Last year, last spring, the Waterkeeper Alliance put up billboards in the eastern part of the state along major highways saying that hog farms were killing fish. Now, we know that’s not true, but we had no way to combat that. We wanted to get the word out.

RLH: And how are hog farms killing fish allegedly? What’s the connection there?

Ed Emory: The charge is that the hog farms are dumping waste. Well, Rachel, that’s not true. It’s not allowed by law. The state of North Carolina does not allow a hog farm to discharge any water into the waters of North Carolina — not a ditch, not a canal, not a stream. And if that does happen, then steps are taken against that hog farmer to correct that.

RLH: We have a tweet from Sweet n Savory Café. They ask, “Do hog farms dump fecal waste into river, pond, or is it treated? Can the waste be treated in a way to make fertilizer?” So, it’s interesting, this perception that there is dumping that goes on. Can you speak to that?

Ed Emory: Yes, I can. To answer the question: No. No fecal waste is dumped into any water in the state of North Carolina. It is not allowed by law. Number two, this water that we hold in lagoons is treated and then it is applied and used as fertilizer on an actively growing crop. So, yes, it can be, and it is being used.

RLH: Can you talk more about how the lagoons work? Because when people think about hog farming and what’s been in the news, it’s usually the lagoons that have come up as an issue. Smelly, polluting, when rains come, they overflow and then flow into nearby waterways — are you saying that’s not happening?

Ed Emory: That is not happening. It does on rare case. In fact, just last year alone, out of the 2,100 swine operations in North Carolina, only 11 were cited for any type of spill at all.

RLH: Joining us now from the UNC Center for Civil Rights is Elizabeth Haddix, senior staff attorney. Now, a complaint filed with the EPA about a year and a half ago alleges that the hog industry disproportionately impacts minority communities, violating Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. You joined as co-council several months after this was filed. Why did the complainant arrive at these allegations? Why do you say this is an issue of environmental justice?

Elizabeth Haddix: The complainants are the Waterkeeper Alliance, the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, and REACH, which stands for Rural Empowerment Association for Community Help, which is based in Warsaw, and those organizations had been working for quite literally decades to try to get the state regulatory agency—then called DENR, just recently changed its name to the Department of Environmental Quality or DEQ—first, to do a disproportionality analysis, to look at how its general permitting of these industrial hog facilities disproportionately impacted communities that are protected under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act—in other words, disproportionately impacted communities based on their race and ethnicity. So African Americans, Native Americans, and Latino residents of North Carolina are about twice as likely to live within three miles of one of these polluting facilities as white North Carolinians are. So, they had been trying to get DEQ to do that analysis and to modify its permit so that the impacts of these facilities would be less burdensome for the people who live near them.

RLH: When you say impacts, what are you talking about? What kinds of impacts do nearby communities say they experience?

Elizabeth Haddix: Well, I think the first thing you’ll hear, if you talk to anybody who lives near one of these facilities, is how bad it smells. I mean, anyone who’s ever driven through Duplin or Sampson County with their windows down on the way to the beach knows what this smells like. But if you live within three miles, within a mile, a lot of the residents that have submitted statements to the EPA live within a mile of one of these facilities, and the stench of the dead hogs which are disposed of in things called “dead boxes,” which are like dumpsters at the end of the road, on the edge of the properties where these facilities are. You know, the flies are another problem, the buzzards. And then there is the water concerns. So, Ed was just saying that there’s no discharge from these facilities and there’s no dumping by these farmers into streams. Well, of course, that’s the wrong way to frame it. I mean, there have been scientific studies done since the mid-1990s all the way up until the most recent one in 2015 by the United States Geological Survey showing that the nutrient levels traced to these swine facilities in the surrounding surface waters are higher than normal and, in a lot of places, at unacceptable levels.

RLH: The USGS study that you’re talking about, there was another study that came out, I think commissioned by the Pork Council, that took issue with some of the data. And Ed Emory from North Carolina Farm Families, you’re shaking your head. Tell me what you’re taking issue with here.

Ed Emory: Several things. First, we are not a polluting industry as Elizabeth shared, but with the study, there was some flawed research in that study. We’ve had Dr. Showers to research that from North Carolina State University. He’s going to be a guest on your show next week.

RLH: We are doing a series on this industry, yes.

Ed Emory: He could better answer those claims, but basically, the studies showed that if buffers were in place, that was a good protectant of water quality and really, the rivers don’t have any issues.

RLH: So where then are these groups, like Waterkeeper Alliance, how are they coming up with these claims that there is— What is this, Elizabeth, fecal matter in the water? Is that what the claim is?

Elizabeth Haddix: Yeah, the 2015 study analyzed nutrient pollution in 54 sub-watersheds across North Carolina and found significant water quality impacts where CAFOs were present. CAFOs are the closed animal feeding operations; that’s an abbreviation. These studies go all the way back to the mid-1990s, and there’s several each year, from 1995 on, that document the pollution, the water pollution, the air pollution as well. There’s hydrogen sulfide gases. There’s ammonia gases. And we trace it to what Ed referred to as the lagoon and spray field system.

So that animal waste goes directly into open pits. Ed said they were lined by clay. They’re unlined pits. They’re dug in our good eastern North Carolina soil and the waste goes into those pits. When the levels of the waste reach a certain level, then they’re pumped into jet-powered sprayers, which are sprayed on the fields, and there are rules that DEQ has that these contract growers have to abide by about where that waste should be sprayed and how it should be sprayed, but we’ve got people who live right near these facilities who have reported that those rules aren’t being followed. So, even if the rules are being followed, though, the waste management system, which is an outdated method for disposing of animal waste, and just remember, we’re talking about nearly ten million hogs in 2,100 farms.

When hog farming changed in the late 1980s and 1990s to this industrial form of production, it radically changed how hog farming was conducted in North Carolina. We used to have between 15,000-20,000 farmers that raised hogs before the industrialization of this production, and now there’s only 2100. So when you think about traditional family farms that we know of, that we think of, this is a very different practice. And in fact, the moratorium that Ed mentioned was put in place because of the unbelievable weather events, hurricanes and floods, that proved that these lagoon and spray field systems have disastrous consequences.

RLH: I want to give Ed Emory a chance to answer because you’ve thrown a number of things out there that he hasn’t been able to respond to yet. 

Elizabeth Haddix: Sure, and just to be clear, I was sort of taking notes while he spoke and wanting to respond to what he said as well.

RLH: I understand. Ed Emory, you shook your head when she mentioned the “unlined pits.” You said these lagoons are lined with clay. What’s the distinction there that we need to understand?

Ed Emory: Let’s back up and look at the whole picture. A lot of allegations were made that were simply untrue. I’ve lived in Duplin County—I live within one half mile of a hog farm. I was there when these lagoon systems were installed. I saw the engineering behind them. I personally saw the clay linings being put in. So, that is simply not true. They are lined. They are all lined. They have always been lined.

RLH: And the purpose of the lining is what?

Ed Emory: It’s a clay lining that has to be so many inches thick, that is compacted, that’s impervious so the water does not leak out. That’s the fact.

RLH: You also shook your head when she was talking about the smell not just coming from lagoons but dead hogs. Can you talk about how dead hogs are handled?

Ed Emory: Dead hogs are handled on the farm. They are picked up, and they’re taken to a processing facility. They’re not allowed to rot in the sun as she spoke. That may have been a practice in the past. It is not a practice now. I know that for a fact.

EB Harris (caller): In the 1970s, I worked for the largest hog auction on this side of the Mississippi out of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Those twenty-six thousand farmers you were talking about brought hogs in there [indecipherable], they brought them on tractor trailers, they brought them behind farm tractors, any way they could bring them. That sale was so large sometimes that we’d have to sell one set of hogs, load them out, and then sell another set of hogs, two sets of hogs sold that day. And twenty-six thousand farmers raised them all kinds of ways on the family farm. But the number one thing today that I see that changed for the betterment – the waste water that is produced by these hog farms today is pumped out on grass to grow grass or grow crops to grow other animals. And this thing is like a big ball, it keeps right on rolling.

RLH: You’re saying that you think this is more environmentally-responsible of an operation today because of the way the waste is handled. Am I hearing you correctly?

EB Harris (caller): Can you imagine trying to regulate twenty-six thousand farmers in this state raising one hog or one hundred and one? I’m not saying about the conditions they raised them in—some of them had them in buildings. I know we had them, my daddy had a hog pen built outside. And we took that little bit of manure from there—we were small-time hog farmers—and put it on the garden and grew some of the prettiest tomatoes and potatoes that you’ve ever seen. But today, some of the hogs, they might have watered out the creek, they might have watered them out the well. Today, those hogs today are raised in from more of an environmentally friendly standpoint because we can manage those two thousand hog farmers better than twenty-six thousand. That waste water today is pumped, and it’s recycled right back through these farms. They grow hay and crops and different things. And that right there is all natural fertilizer. I think our water today is cleaner because of that. Because I know I used to haul hogs, and a lot of them would go down to the creek and load them out.

RLH: Elizabeth Haddix, this is a person who has watched the hog industry evolve over the last several decades. What do you say to his claims that this waste now is being used to help grow crops in this state?

Elizabeth Haddix: Oh, I mean, I don’t dispute it. I think that’s exactly what’s happening. It’s just that there are other impacts that are, as I said, documented in scientific studies that have been coming out for a while now that indicate that it is the concentration of the amount of waste in eastern North Carolina that is the problem. Mr. Harris was talking about a time when we had about three million hogs in eastern North Carolina. Now we’ve got ten million hogs in eastern North Carolina. Just to put it in perspective, Smithfield was bought out by a Chinese corporation called WH Group a few years ago. There was a piece that came out last summer with an interview of one of WH Group’s spokespersons about why they haven’t when they promised ten years ago to implement more advanced technologies to deal with the impacts from this unsustainable concentration of hog waste in eastern North Carolina. He said we haven’t done that because we have our shareholders to answer to. And that’s a quote from the chief sustainability officer of Smithfield.

RLH: Let’s let Ed Emory respond to that.

Ed Emory: There are a couple of allegations in that that I’d like to respond to. Number one, I would contend that we are having less of an environmental impact now—I agree with Mr. Harris—with the hogs that we’re growing, even though we’re growing a greater number, because we can control it. I remember, as Mr. Harris said, when pigs were grown in the swamp. And I think those three million probably were causing more damage to our environment than the way we have it now.

As far as this being an outdated technology, we have a lagoon and spray field system. It is not the same system that was put in in the 1990s. It’s continually improving. Our farmers and our industry is continually looking and investing in new technology, in making this operate better, just in the use of water alone. We have cut the amount of water per pig that we use as far as waste water treatment in half over the past ten years. So we are making great strides, and we are protecting the environment. And I think that we need to look at this.

Now, we can talk about studies. You can study anything, but if you have a study and you have already predisposed what you think is going to happen based on what you want to happen, then yeah, you can probably make it say what you want it to say, but there are studies out there that prove that water quality is better now and that things are being managed much better than it was in the past.

RLH: I want to get to this email. Jen writes, “The National Geographic thought that the problem was significant enough that they wrote about it two years ago. As they point out, just because there is a law doesn't mean that farmers follow the law.” She’s essentially saying there are studies that document water and air pollution, but the problem in North Carolina is a lack of enforcement.

Ed Emory: These rules are enforced. There are many, many rules. I wish I’d brought the book with me that has all the rules. It’s about ten pounds’ worth of rules. DEQ has to inspect these farms every year, but in addition to that, the hog farmers have to keep accurate records of all the waste that they apply, when they apply it, and the conditions when they apply it.

Levon (caller): I have a question regarding the inorganic compounds that come through in the pig’s waste, potentially added as feed. Are there any additional compounds, such as antibiotics or others, that are included in the pig’s feed that come out in the waste, applied as fertilizer, that then concentrate in the groundwater and, rather, in the lagoons or where the waste is applied?

Ed Emory: First of all, antibiotic use on the hog farms is very minimal. They’re only used to treat sick animals or to prevent any kind of illness. In fact, if you look at it in relation to what humans and pet owners use, ten times as many antibiotics are used by humans and on their pets than we are even allowed in the pork industry. And then again, I want to make sure that we understand that hog farms are not permitted to discharge any water into waters of the state. So to answer your question, that is not happening.

Elizabeth Haddix: Can I respond to that too? Levon, there’s a number of studies—and you’re welcome to email me at emhaddix@unc.edu—showing the presence of resistant bacteria in watersheds close to swine facilities. There’s just too many to mention here, but I’m happy to give you more information about that.

Ed Emory: If I could, Levon, you’re welcome to email me at ed@ncfarmfamilies.com, and I can share with you how the animals are treated, what antibiotics are used, when they’re used, what their feed additives are, and I’ll be happy to share that with you.

Joe (caller): I’m enjoying this reporting because I’m very familiar with the problems that have been going on in this state, as far as the pork industry, for the past twenty-five years. I was here when the pond spills were big news and the Black River was affected by spills from hog industry, and I have to say, as somebody that actually has taken people out on the rivers professionally and am very familiar with water quality issues, I actually have to give the hog industry some credit as to how well they have improved their operations and also how well they have improved their public relations. I do think it is important though for the public to be involved, and I think that had scrutiny not been imposed on the hog industry, we would have had those problems continuing for a lot longer than we did. So vigilance by the public and vigilance by regulators is going to be key, and other than that, I do think that technologies will improve. I eat pork, so unless I boycott pork, I don’t want to be a hypocrite. It’s important to keep up with the issue, but again, I do have to give some credit to the progress in this regard. I don’t consider the hog industry my enemy anymore.

Ed Emory: Joe, I want to thank you for your call. This dialogue is very important, and it takes both sides working together to solve any problem. You mentioned the Black River and how clean it is, but we still have a serious problem on the Black River and that’s the city of Dunn. Over the past six months, they have dumped three million gallons of untreated human waste into the Black River and that’s hardly even been a blip on any media or from any of the groups that want to target hog farmers. But I think it’s important for all of us to work together and find out, if the waters are polluted, where’s that pollution coming from? And what can we do to work together to regulate our cities, our municipalities? To look at how our highways are constructed and the pollution that comes from them. To look at storm drains and how storm drains—from cities, from parking lots, from streets—go directly into our rivers. Those are the things we need to be concerned about, and I know that I am and our North Carolina farm families would be interested in having that discussion on how we could all work together to clean our rivers.

RLH: Elizabeth Haddix, regarding this complaint that you filed on behalf of a number of environmental organizations and advocacy groups, why is this complaint filed with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)? What’s your ultimate goal here, and what more could the federal government or the EPA be doing to oversee some of these regulations? Is that what you’re after?

Elizabeth Haddix: Yes, the complaint was filed with the EPA because under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, EPA as a federal agency has a duty to enforce Title VI and to not fund any programs which have discriminatory impacts and discriminatory effects on people, so that’s why it was filed under Title VI. We’re asking EPA to look at DEQ’s general permit and to make a finding, which we’ve given them substantial data and analysis showing how the general permit disproportionately and adversely impacts communities of color in eastern North Carolina. As a first step, just to find that that permit has discriminatory effects on people. And then to look at how DEQ can alleviate those affects—

RLH: And how can they, in this case? Because these are farms that have been in place for many, many years, and I doubt that anyone would say that they were deliberately located in order to impact communities of color. I mean, it wasn’t intentional.

Elizabeth Haddix: No, that’s not— Under Title VI, there doesn’t need to be discriminatory intent. The effects are the effects, and they’re discriminatory, so the people who live there experience the injury just as if they were being intentionally discriminated against.

There’s lots of ways short of ending the lagoon and spray field system all together, which ultimately, as Mike Williams from NC State has indicated, will have to happen. It’s just an unsustainable system with the geology and hydro-geology of eastern North Carolina. But they could require the installation of end-of-pipe controls on confinement houses that would filter the air, that would alleviate some of the stench. They could require drip irrigators or other irrigation mechanisms that don’t rely on those jet-powered sprayers. They could incentivize retrofits on existing hog houses that would help alleviate some of the odor and the flies and the other health impacts. They could require the permitted facilities to meet the clear standards to reduce air pollutants. You know, there’s a whole list of things that we’ve given them in the complaint that would help, like requiring groundwater monitoring. There’s lots of ways.

RLH: Ed Emory with North Carolina Farm Families, are any of those ideas in the works in the industry?

Ed Emory: They’re in the works, and some of them are already in place. I respect Dr. Williams as a researcher. He was one of my colleagues at NC State. But I do know that the lagoon spray field system is sustainable. We’re making it sustainable, and we’re making it work. As far as any effects of hog farms on neighbors, I know these farmers. I know them. They’re my friends, they’re my neighbors. I also know that they reach out to their neighbors, and they ask if they can help alleviate any ill effects from this.

RLH: So if there were ill effects, how would a farmer help to alleviate that?

Ed Emory: Farmers that I know have planted trees to increase the buffer around their farm. They have changed the practices of when they apply. Ms. Haddix said that they are jet-powered sprayers. Well, there are different kinds of sprayers that are used, and it’s all because we don’t want things going out in the air, we want them to go directly into the ground on that actively growing crop. We have scientists, we have researchers working on this every day to help fine tune this system. So just to make statement that we’re not doing anything and that we’re just spraying waste into the air for no reason, I don’t agree with that. And also, if I look at the statewide health rankings, Duplin County is ranked #8 out of 100 counties in having a good physical environment in which to live, and that’s according to the state Department of Health. Sampson County is ranked #16 out of 100.

RLH: What kind of factors are taken into account?

Ed Emory: Air, water, transportation, and other things that affect physical environment. And I tend to look at those studies from that state agency with more credibility than some of the other studies that have been cited.

Elizabeth Haddix: My clients and Earth Justice and UNC Center for Civil Rights, our only motivation is to clearly and accurately represent the experiences of our clients in these pleadings and in this administrative complaint. We’re not getting paid to do this. We don’t have any profit motive. We certainly agree with Ed that, working together, we will get much further along than working at odds. We just want to make real clear that we have never maligned family farmers. We have laid the responsibility of the pollution from this industry directly at the feet of the multinational corporation that is behind it. That’s the reality. They have the ability to fund innovations that would significantly alleviate the impacts. I mean, there was a study done that if WH Group spent an additional $52,000 a year per average farm—the cheapest alternative option that researchers came up with during the Smithfield-funded initiative in 2000, the Smithfield Report, it’s called—that could dispose of farm’s hog manure in less odorous ways than it’s doing currently. It’s not a big ask of a 16-billion-dollar multinational corporation.

Ed Emory: I’d just like to close by saying that, when we talk about hog farms, we’re talking about family farms. We’re talking about good, honest, hardworking people, and whatever we do to the hog industry in North Carolina is going to ultimately affect those family farms. They make serious investment in technology and in improving their facilities. They create jobs. The pork industry in North Carolina creates 46,000 jobs in an area of the state where, if we did not have this industry, I would hate to see what we would look like because we do have an eleven-billion-dollar impact. In addition to that, our hog farm families pay taxes, millions of dollars of taxes, that are used locally to build schools, to improve hospitals, to provide the infrastructure for education in our area. Good folks doing a very good job and producing a very good, safe food product. The safest food cycle system in the world.

RLH: Rob writes, “There is a solution used in other countries. Mechanized anaerobic digesters which can receive the solid waste, process it in thirty days or less, converting it to biogas, which can be used to generate electricity. Electric utilities have to produce increasing percentages of their output from these sources.” We know that’s true domestically as well, that’s been in the news quite a bit lately, and we actually have an edition of CoastLine coming up dedicated to that idea.  

Ed Emory: And I know, in a further edition of this series, you will have people who can speak to that, to projects that we have in place. We’re very interested in waste-to-energy projects. We’ve invested money, and some trials are going on now. We would really like for those tax credits to stay in place to make them more economically feasible for our farm families.

RLH: Elizabeth Haddix, what does the future of hog farming look like in North Carolina?

Elizabeth Haddix: Well, we hope that it is more conscious of sustainable practices. There are hog farms out there– There was a caller that called in about what other sustainable practices are out there, and there are, and you can buy pork that is raised sustainability. This resonates with the waste-to-energy programs too. I mean, you really have to zoom back out and look at the sustainability of having ten million hogs located in eastern North Carolina. Duplin and Sampson counties have the highest concentration of these animals in the world. We have to ask ourselves, “Is that sustainable? Is it doable?” And it’s not. So, that’s the bigger picture, I think, is learning how to wrestle with that reality.