Cargill rejects calls to move Arkansas hog farm

Farm Forum

Minnesota-based food processor Cargill said Monday that it has no intention to shutter or relocate an Arkansas hog farm, despite concerns from environmentalists who say the operation poses a pollution threat to the nearby Buffalo River.

A Cargill spokesman said the company is committed to installing newer technology at its Mount Judea facility in northern Arkansas — including using synthetics to line the holding pond and settling basin and installing a flare system to burn off gasses — and has already self-imposed a moratorium on expansion of hog production in the watershed area. The Buffalo was the country’s first designated national river in 1972, and is a large tourism draw for the state.

At least four conservation groups have raised concerns for more than a year that manure runoff could affect the quality of one of the state’s scenic crown jewels.

The farm is located on a tributary less than 10 miles from the river and has some 2,500 sows and 4,000 piglets, all of which are owned by Cargill. The three families who own the hog farm contract with Cargill, which owns the animals.

Mike Martin, a Cargill spokesman, said the hog operation has told the company it wants to stay in the area and that that farmers there have done nothing wrong.

“There’s a frustration because there are other things directly impacting the quality of the river: livestock operations and cattle ranches are all over the place, including near the park boundaries, there’s cattle standing in the river,” Martin said Monday. “There are other things that are impacting water quality, and those aren’t being addressed.”

Perhaps illustrating the recent tension between the company and its critics, Mike Luker, the president of Cargill Pork, confessed in a letter last month to the Buffalo River Watershed Alliance that “a solution which satisfies all is probably unrealistic.”

Environmental groups congratulated Cargill on its self-imposed moratorium, but pledged to keep applying pressure on the company to relocate the operation.

“We assume part of this is about setting a precedent— if they shut this one down, then environmentalists will be clamoring all over the country to shut other operations down,” said Gordon Watkins, the president of the watershed alliance.

National Parks Conservation Association program manager Emily Jones said in a statement that while the coalition is pleased Cargill has voluntarily committed to the moratorium, an operation such as C&H “should not have been placed directly upstream from America’s first national river to begin with.”

Martin said Cargill and conservationists can co-exist in the area.

“(These families have) been farming for more than 50 years. They have a very good record,” he said.