The project’s initial and final purpose was to provide the agricultural professional and sustainable agricultural professional, as well as those involved in agriculture production, with information and some level of understanding of a myriad of complex legal areas impacting on the growing trend toward corporate, large, agri-business farming. These legal areas include nuisance law, right to farm law, anti-corporate farming law and environmental regulation. These legal areas, in the initial stages of the project, were just beginning a heightened level of scrutiny in the state capitols both within and outside the Southern Region, as well as a heightened level of scrutiny in our nation’s capitol.
During the course of the initial stages of the project, when filming of raw video footage was occurring, there was even greater scrutiny placed on these legal areas as state legislatures in several Southern states struggled to get a handle on burgeoning corporate agribusiness interests within their states and the problems these entities brought with them to the rural countryside.
While the written project, in its final form, gives a specific analysis of each state’s laws in most of these areas, the video portion of the project was forced to focus on one state and the experiences of its’ citizens. Within the Southern Region, the states of North Carolina and Oklahoma experienced the most legislative activity during the period of this grant in these issue areas. Due to the proximity of Oklahoma to the filming entities, the initial video crew filmed numerous times within the state of Oklahoma. Side trips to the state of Missouri – which, while not in the Southern Region states, was experiencing an avalanche of legislative activity as well – were also incorporated into the filming agenda.
While on site, the filming crews interviewed numerous citizens of rural areas who were becoming educated and involved in the problems brought about by ever-increasing and larger corporate farming enterprises. Most of the increased corporate farming activity within North Carolina, Oklahoma, and Missouri was within the swine confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) industry. Governors seated study commissions and those members were interviewed. Legislative task force chairs were interviewed. Citizen groups borne out of the concern for health and environmental issues faced by rural citizenry were interviewed. A few proponents of the CAFO industry were interviewed, however, as word spread about the video, these opportunities became less available to the camera crew. The heightened level of conflict within these states and rural communities made the proponents and industrial representatives unwilling to be interviewed on camera.
One of the most critical components of the project has always been the exploration of conflict resolution techniques and methodology as a means to resolve the community problems that have arisen in the wake of the CAFO explosion. Community problems have focused on the “pro-development” vs. “anti-corporate” factions. Health problems of rural residents caused by CAFOs have gone head-to-head with economic development arguments of rural leaders. The project in its final report examines the methods for implementing conflict resolution programs as well as the possibility for the use of “win-win” approaches in the on-going monitoring of the enterprises which currently exist within the community.
The objectives of the project were to examine and analyze the following areas:
1. Nuisance laws in the Southern Region states
2. Right to Farm laws in the Southern Region states
3. Anti-corporate farming laws in the Southern Region states
4. Odor regulations in the Southern Region states
5. Environmental regulations controlling livestock operations in the Southern Region states
6. Examples of community confrontations occurring in the Southern Region states around the expansion in size of agricultural operations, particularly livestock operations
7. Principles of alternative dispute resolution, generally and mediation laws in place in the Southern Region states, specifically
8. Examples of successful mediation techniques and discussion of how mediation principles can be effective in resolving community disputes
9. The principles of sustainable agriculture as can be used to address community concerns associated with nuisance problems.
Initially, this project was to have been a video presentation project. However, due to exigencies beyond the control of the principal investigator, the project was converted in its final year to a written training manual accompanied by CD/power point information.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
All the statutes and regulations concerning the specific legal arenas which have always been at the heart of the project were compiled and presented in the final written report and training manual. A comprehensive set of informative overheads or power point presentation slides have been incorporated into a CD format and were included with the written manual in dissemination. Additional information concerning the project will be available on an ongoing basis from the Kerr Center. The video raw footage will be sent to the Southern Region SARE offices for cataloguing and potential future use. The final project manual has been sent to all of the Southern Region SARE states and can be made available to others who might be interested by contacting the Kerr Center.
The information contained in the training manual has the potential for impact far beyond the Southern Region. Within the Southern Region SARE states, each state’s agricultural professionals should become fully versed in the legal issues enmeshed within this continuing move toward corporate mega-farming enterprises. If the community conflict that has so engaged many states and rural communities within the region has not yet found its way into the reader’s state, preventive preparation can still take place. If the reader finds himself involved in the sticky legal problems associated with CAFO growth within his state, a thorough reading and analysis of the information offered within the manual would expand his knowledge and capacity to deal with the situation.
Hopefully, those reading the manual will come away with the clear idea that this growth in CAFO operations presents so many problems in economic, social, health, natural resources, and quality of life areas, that serious consideration should be given concerning its sustainability.
We as yet do not have a clear idea concerning the direct impact of the manual nor do we have direct feedback on the manual from farmers and ranchers. We do, however, have three years of positive feedback from the rural community and the sustainable farming community concerning their support for the project. And we have three years of suspicion and anxiety concerning the project from the corporate farming community. These phenomena alone can tell us that the information contained within the manual is seeking to shine light on complex legal arenas and place this complex legal information in the hands of non-lawyers and non-legislative persons in order to achieve a full and complete and fair analysis of the sustainability of these types of projects.
As for future recommendations, we would recommend that should the Southern Region SARE undertake such a video project in the future, that it should be combined with funds from other SARE regions into a national project. The issues facing rural communities and the agricultural community in general by the move toward large, corporate CAFO enterprises, is not a Southern Region phenomenon alone. Additional funds poured into the project in its earlier stages could have achieved a final video project in the time allotted.