Cargill, the largest privately held corporation in the U.S. and the nation’s eighth-largest pork producer in 2014, has its eye on land near Grand Junction for a new $30 million feed mill, according to a company representative.
Cargill Pork Vice President and General Manager Jane Fallon told the Greene County Board of Supervisors Monday the company is in the preliminary stages of studying the site for a mill similar in size to its new milling facility in Hedrick, Iowa, which will have 15 employees and produce 350,000 tons of pelletized hog feed a year when it comes online later this year.
“We want to research the infrastructure in the county over the next few months to see if it will be possible to build here,” Fallon said. She said access to utilities will be crucial to the feasibility of the Greene County project, particularly links to electricity, gas, water and waste water services.
Grand Junction Mayor Gerald Herrick has already told Fallon the city’s water and waste water systems could handle the additional 600 gallons a day of waste water the plant would produce.
The mill would occupy about 15 acres at the southwest corner of U.S. Highway 30 and County Road P46, about one mile east of Grand Junction, on land owned by Timothy Collogan of Grand Junction.
“We will also study the patterns of truck traffic and determine the most advantageous spot to build,” Fallon said.
She said the project has not yet been fully funded and is still preliminary.
“We haven’t made a decision yet to locate in this county,” she said. “We first just wanted to introduce ourselves to you and make sure all the facts were our there for everyone. We would very much like support from Greene County.”
Fallon did not specifically talk about a financial incentive for Cargill but said that conversation would be at a later time.
“In a company like Cargill, capital is difficult to come by,” she told the supervisors.
The third step in Cargill’s site selection process, after finding a potential location and determining infrastructure needs, is to determine whether “there is incentive to build here, to make the project attractive,” she said. The fourth step is a presentation to the Cargill senior leadership team.
”If it’s a strong project and you’ve got the capital available, you get the go-ahead,” Fallon said.
The Greene County Supervisors were noncommittal about offering an incentive. While Jefferson has used tax increment financing (TIF) to lure new businesses over the years, the county has not. The only incentive the county has offered in the past has been with Louis Dreyfus LLC for the Grand Junction ethanol plant.
Louis Dreyfus pays the county $50,000 a year in lieu of property tax on the improvements to the property. The parcel is still taxed at the same rate as when in was farm land. The county uses a portion of the money for property tax relief and a portion as discretionary funding for projects such as the Thomas Jefferson Gardens in Jefferson and the Grand Junction Community Center.
Chairman of the Board of Supervisors John Muir asked Fallon whether the feed mill would attract more hog confinements to the area (also called concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs).
“The mill would probably mean some more growth (in CAFOs),” Fallon said. “We’ve seen growth in the last five years in our contract-finishing system. We’re currently about 75 to 80 percent there with our own needs, and this mill will assist us mainly in redirecting where our feed goes.”
Fallon declined to say how many Cargill contract pork producers already operate in the county, saying she did not have that figure available.
According to its website, Cargill Pork produces most of its pigs at a 21,500-acre sow facility near Dalhart, Texas. Many of the piglets are then shipped to contract CAFO owners in Iowa, where the corn is, and the animals are finished or brought to market weight in about six months.
Cargill operates swine slaughterhouses in Ottumwa and Beardstown, Ill.
George Naylor, who raises organic crops on his farm near Churdan and is past president of the National Family Farm Coalition, attended Fallon’s presentation in Jefferson and asked whether the proposed feed mill would supply other local CAFOs or only Cargill’s.
“We could mostly do with supplying our own contract producers,” Fallon said. “We’re exploring the possibility of making feed ourselves, and we’ve got the critical mass already to justify putting in a feed mill. There would be a lot of benefits. If we can control the quality of our feed and the proximity to our CAFOs, we think we can be much more efficient,” she said.
Cargill currently purchases feed for its Greene County producers from Farmers Cooperative in Earlham. She said the relationship with FC is “great,” but Cargill is looking for greater efficiency.
Fallon said the mill would buy five million to six million bushels of corn a year, including distillers grain, a byproduct of ethanol production. The Dreyfus ethanol plant, which produces 300,000 tons of distillers grain annually, would be about two miles from Cargill’s proposed Grand Junction mill.
“It’d sure be nice for farmers to have another outlet for their corn,” Supervisor Tom Conter said. Muir agreed.
But Greene County is growing CAFOs even without the help of a new $30 million feed mill. Naylor noted five new CAFOs are in the works for northwest Greene County. Two will be operated by Keno Farms and three by Hawker Farms, Naylor said, but these are simply front groups for Iowa Select Farms.
The Iowa Falls-based Iowa Select Farms was the seventh-largest pork producer in the U.S. in 2014, according to Successful Farming magazine.
“I’m here to complain about the proliferation of hog confinements in the county,” Naylor told the supervisors. “There are five of them going in now. I know someone whose house is within half a mile of one, and another is within a mile of a brand new home. Iowa Select gets to rake in the money from these things without any consideration for the people who live here.”
Greene County Sanitarian Tim Healy said it is unusual for five manure management plans to hit his desk at the same time. Healy said each of the five new Iowa Select CAFOs is just under the 2,500-head limit for hog confinements needing a permit from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
CAFOs seeking DNR permits must submit a master matrix as part of their application, and they are often subject to public scrutiny and criticism in a hearing before county boards of supervisors. The Iowa Select CAFOs are each building for 2,480 hogs so no master matrix is required, only a manure management plan.
“I know you can’t do a damn thing about it,” Naylor said to the supervisors. “Bill Stowe at the Des Moines Water Works is sounding the alarm with his lawsuit against the counties to our northwest, but I talked to him, and ultimately he’s just as hopeless and powerless to do anything about it as you are.”
The Des Moines Water Works Trustees last week filed suit in U.S. Federal Court against the Buena Vista, Calhoun and Sac County Boards of Supervisors and several drainage districts within those counties. The suit alleges the counties are violating the U.S. Clean Water Act by not controlling the agricultural pollution entering the Des Moines and Raccoon rivers.
“It’s a big story,” said Muir, who was surprised Greene County was not also named a party to the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit. “I think it might be because we’re a little more conscious and environmentally responsible in Greene County, with our buffer strips and manure management,” he said.
Michelle Fields, Greene County drainage clerk, said the Des Moines Water Works “sampled all along the Raccoon River. Either our numbers weren’t high enough, or they focused on the counties that are most purely agricultural.”
“It is time to take into account what goes on in this fine county of ours,” Naylor said. “We’ve got politicians who are only interested in serving the interests of the Big Ag corporations.”