Not much room left in Codington County for CAFOs

Farm Forum

There is not much room left in Codington County for the establishment or expansion of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.

That was the conclusion of a 2012 map study presented by First District Association of Local Governments Executive Director Todd Kays and First District Planner and Codington County Zoning Officer Luke Muller to the Codington County Zoning and Planning Commission last week at the Extension Complex. The study was previously presented to the Lake Kampeska Water Project District.

Covering a total area of nearly 459,000 acres, the map study declares that nearly two-thirds – 299,923.54 acres – of the county land is prohibited for CAFO use under the current feedlot requirements adopted in 1997.

Even though almost two-thirds of the county is off-limits to CAFO development, many of those located in areas where they aren’t prohibited. In fact, over 85,000 acres – 18.62 percent – are eligible for CAFO expansion without being subjected to location limitations that are in place in other parts of the county. Those areas are mainly located in the western and eastern parts of the county.

“Why are those areas open? There’s nobody living out there. There are no roads,” Kays said. “They’re going to have to create infrastructure (if those livestock producers wish to build or expand a CAFO).”

Meanwhile, about 41,000 acres – nine percent of the county – is open to limited development. Livestock producers located in those acres scattered throughout the county are in areas where they may have the room to expand their operation up to 2,000 animals. However, the producers located in those areas would have to meet slightly more stringent setback limitations imposed by the county.

“They could, theoretically, expand their existing operation up to 2,000 animals and still meet all of the residential, church and business setbacks,” Kays said. “If you’re a producer in those areas, you have some ability to grow without encumbering setback requirements.”

Finally, producers that are located in some portion of the 33,000 acres – or 7.17 percent of the county – could theoretically expand whatever livestock operations they have, but would generally have to resort to buying out their neighbors if they wished to expand to 35 acres or more. Those 33,000 acres are generally spread throughout the county and border areas where CAFO development is prohibited.

“If you wanted to go out and buy people out, anywhere from 35 to 200 acres, you could start a CAFO. However, it would be more cost prohibitive to do that,” Kays said.

CAFOs have encountered opposition in recent years due to concerns of air pollution and water quality issues, among other factors.

Even with the significant financial startup costs and the potential blowback from area residents, Kays said that the county’s producers are raising more cattle than when the feedlot requirements were adopted in 1997. However, those production numbers are concentrated in almost 100 fewer producers compared to nearly 20 years ago.

In the end, Kays maintained that the influx in the number of CAFOs within the county through 2012 can be attributed more to the friendly financial climate than county regulation policies.

“Our findings were basically that those changes are not a function of the zoning regulations that Codington County has,” Kays said. “Those changes are basically a function of the economics production agriculture and animals.”