A confined swine facility could be approved for construction near Valentine soon.
For now, it is a contentious issue in the largest county in the state, known for having a lot more cattle than people.
That’s cattle, not pigs.
The facility, proposed by Danielski Harvesting and Farming, must first be granted a conditional use permit by Cherry County commissioners, upon recommendation from the county planning commission.
Planning commission members had a lengthy hearing Nov. 12, heard more public comments on Dec. 1, and could make a recommendation after they consider the proposal again at their meeting Tuesday.
Leonard Danielski is a partner in the 45-year-old family farm operation that wants to add pigs to the mix. He said what they are proposing is a farrowing facility, where sows would be artificially inseminated and their young raised to 15 pounds before being sold to other swine producers.
A conditional use permit would allow them to exceed current Cherry County regulations that limit livestock to 2,000 animal units per square mile. The Danielskis propose construction in two phases: first a facility that would accommodate up to 10,684 sows and 2,000 piglets; then Phase 2, which would accommodate up to 6,156 sows.
In the United States, a beef cow counts as one animal unit, a pig over 55 pounds as 0.4 AU and piglets as 0.03 AU each. The numbers for Danielskis’ facilities translate to 4,334 AU in Phase 1 and 2,462 AU more in Phase 2.
The operation would help the Danielskis convert 2,000 acres of adjacent farm ground to organic production by providing a ready fertilizer source. Organic crops cannot use chemical pesticides or fertilizers, but can be fertilized with animal manure.
The Danielskis have been raising organic corn, soybeans, field peas and dry edible beans farther from the site for over 10 years, using cow manure from a nearby feedlot and poultry manure from a farm in eastern Nebraska.
The site is a half mile east of German Settlement Road at Crookston, about three miles south of U.S. Highway 20. It is between two hills and the facility would not be obvious from the road, Danielski said.
At the hearings in November, several area residents gave testimony, both for and against the proposal.
A full-page advertisement opposing the facility appeared recently in the Valentine Midland News. However, the sponsor of the ad was not named.
Some of the concern regards manure. If not managed carefully, it can create odor and pollute the environment, which Cherry County residents care deeply about.
The Danielskis care about it, too, Leonard Danielski said, adding that if they thought what they are planning would adversely affect their neighbors, they wouldn’t do it.
They hired Settje Professional Agriculture Services, based in Raymond, to make sure their design is not only efficient, but also environmentally sound.
They subsequently obtained a construction and operating permit from the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, issued Aug. 10 after a complicated process that began in March.
Keith A. Marvin of Marvin Planning Consultants, based in David City, reviewed the proposed operation for the Cherry County planning commission.
In a July 11 letter to the commission, he outlined a number of concerns related to field application of the manure, including the potential for nitrogen and phosphorus runoff into waterways, and leaching of nitrogen into the groundwater.
On Nov. 13, Settje’s filed revised manure application guidelines with NDEE for the Danielskis, addressing many of those concerns.
The guidelines state that manure would be transported by tanker wagon or above-ground piping and injected into the soil prior to planting a crop. Manure would not be applied to frozen soil and would not be applied within 100 feet of any streams, lakes or impounded waters. There would also be no manure lying on the surface of the soil to taint the air or to wash off the target area.
Before field injections, the manure would be stored in pits up to 12 feet deep, below the large buildings that would house the pigs. It’s “one of the safest ways to store animal waste,” said Danielski. “There have been zero failures of deep pit systems in the state of Nebraska.”
That agrees with testimony given at the November meeting by Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District representative Mike Murphy, according to the minutes of the meeting on the Cherry County website.
Murphy also said that a monitoring well in the vicinity is checked yearly to ensure that pollutants such as nitrate do not become elevated in the groundwater.
In an interview, Danielski said the deep pit will cost much more than the open pits and lagoons in use at facilities in Brown County and many other locations. However, it will have the advantage of substantially reduced odor potential.
The Danielskis also used an “odor footprint tool” devised by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that predicted that the odor would be below acceptable limits, he said.
Rancher Nina Nelson is not convinced. Nelson and her husband, Dave, have land adjacent to the Danielskis’ and live 1½ miles from the proposed facility.
An emailed statement from Nina Nelson referred to Cherry County as a “cattle and recreational county,” and said that she and other residents she has talked to worry that granting a conditional use permit for Danielskis would “open the county to huge mass confinement operations, which will ultimately change this county and the quality of life we enjoy here.”
However, she said she would not oppose the Danielskis’ plan if it did not exceed current animal unit restrictions.
Ed Brown, who lives in Santa Barbara, California, and operates a ranch near the Danielskis, agreed.
“If I don’t like a regulation, can I ignore it?” he said in a phone interview. “How does that all work?”
In the November meeting he said the facility may reduce the peaceful enjoyment of the area, where he said he spends much of the year, and that it may reduce property values.
Chad Carstens, a farmer in Bagley, Iowa, lives near a facility similar to what the Danielskis have proposed. He lives about 2½ miles east of Fair Creek, a farrowing facility.
At 6,000 sows, it is smaller than the Danielskis’ planned operation, but uses a deep pit manure system like the Danielskis plan to build.
Carstens said he detects some odor from fields two miles away when manure is being applied, if the operator lifts the injection unit out of the ground for a few feet on the turn row, and the wind is from that direction.
“They spread for two days and it’s really not bad, honestly. ... I’d like to complain, but I can’t” because it is a minor inconvenience, he said. “Some years we don’t even smell it.”
Fair Creek is operated by Suidae Health and Production at Bayard, Iowa.
Smell is not all that worries Nelson. She said the unemployment rate in Cherry County is low and speculated that workers would have to move into the area to staff the facilities, placing demands on housing and school resources.
She was concerned that some workers might not speak English and that would require local schools to hire English language learner instructors.
Valentine and Cody-Kilgore schools are the closest to the proposed site. Cody-Kilgore Superintendent Ryan Orrock said that if immigrants do come into the area, he does not expect it to create major problems for the school, even if they have to hire some teachers.
“We’ll adjust,” he said.
Danielski said “the proposed project will be a state-of-the-art facility with very good working conditions,” including benefits, that would attract domestic job seekers.
However, they will welcome qualified applicants, no matter their origin, he said.
He agreed that there is a housing shortage in the area, but said a need can also create opportunities.
He said that he has been approached by individuals who are interested in building housing, and that he was confident that the need would be met.
More workers would mean more traffic up and down a three-mile stretch of German Settlement Road connecting the site to Highway 20. There would be three shifts, with 18 to 20 people working each shift, said Danielski.
There would be additional truck traffic, too — a couple of feed trucks and a livestock-hauling truck — on a typical day.
Neighbors may object to the extra traffic, but Cherry County Roads Supervisor Kent Lopez said he did not expect road maintenance requirements to increase substantially. The shoulders may need to be widened near facility entrances, and more armor coating may need to be put down from time to time.
However, the Danielskis already “haul a lot of grain out of there” in heavy semitrailer trucks; the asphalt surface “has been built up and taken care of,” and “the road is adequate,” Lopez said.
Danielski also said a statement in the newspaper advertisement that there would be “3,000 semi-loads of liquid manure” traveling on the roads is completely inaccurate.
There is a lot to consider, and the Planning and Zoning Commission may be nearing a decision: whether to recommend that commissioners issue a conditional use permit for Phase 1, both phases or neither.