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Veach: Fear has overtaken reality in hog farm debate

6/17/2013 at 12:00 a.m.

By Randy Veach, ARFB president

Column originally published in the July-August issue of Front Porch magazine.

It was President Franklin D. Roosevelt who observed that the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself” during his first inauguration address of 1933, with the Great Depression swallowing our country and distrust of government and our fellow man rampant. He dared to publicly identify fear as nothing more than something we have created in our minds.

In a much smaller — but still meaningful — way, we’re seeing fear overtake reality when it comes to the debate surrounding C&H Farms of Mount Judea. C&H Farms built a 2,500-sow hog farm in Newton Co., in the Buffalo River watershed. This prompted some to question the farmers, because they fear contamination of the watershed. An abundance of fear — or is it simply a lack of understanding of the environmental standards in place? — seems to take hold of some on this topic.

To those who see this as unworkable, we must first understand that farming and recreational use of the river have co-existed for as long as people have lived along the Buffalo. Second, the environmental protections in place, in the form of on-farm safeguards and in regulations enforced by the state and federal government, allow for reasonable and regulated uses that meet scientifically accepted environmental standards.

Much of this debate centers on the theory that something catastrophic will happen, an assumption with an extraordinarily negative world view. We must refuse to see things through that sort of distorted lens. In this situation, and all where fear is allowed to overtake truth, we must stop seeing (and smelling) things that aren’t there. In this case, we should acknowledge the stewardship of farmers who have lived in the watershed for eight generations, and understand they are the ones with everything to lose if something goes wrong. We must agree that no one wants to damage the Buffalo River, but also realize the watershed has been protected by family farmers like C&H Farms well before the Buffalo River ever became a national river.

Like the vast majority of farm families, C&H Farms’ goal is to understand the rules, comply with them and leave the land in better shape than they found it, hopefully in the hands of their children and grandchildren.

In a recent letter to Teresa Marks, director of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, I thanked her for her efforts to turn the discussion away from fear-induced emotion and return it to its proper place, the science of clean water.

Those who follow the guidelines established by our state and federal lawmakers should be allowed to farm their land, plain and simple. There’s no need to restrict or curtail any activity when there’s no wrongdoing. There’s no hint of that as C&H Farms meticulously followed (even exceeded) the required steps to secure their permit. And I believe they’ll maintain that environmental vigilance going forward.

Certainly, the Buffalo River carries a deep, emotional connection as our first national river. And the truth is the laws we have in place were built for situations like this. As farmers, we deal with those situations every day. When we realize those state and federal standards protect the Buffalo River watershed, as well as every other watershed in our great state, all fears should subside.

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