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Lakes eco group, livestock producers reach harmony

By Staff | Jun 26, 2008

ARNOLDS PARK – An historic accord has been reached between an Iowa Great Lakes environmental group and major livestock producers to help preserve the ecological uniqueness of the glacial lakes area. At a press conference Wednesday morning in the Hedberg Theater of the Maritime Museum in Arnolds Park, Iowa Great Lakes Association (IGLA) founder and chairman Bill Van Orsdel explained the agreement.

“I am proud to announce the nearly 1,000 members of the IGLA and some of the most successful livestock producers in the country have come together after two years of work and countless meetings to achieve an important treaty,” Van Orsdel said. “The unprecedented agreement was reached by a working group including some of the largest and most respected pork producers in the state including Christensen Farms, Schwartz Farms, Lynch Livestock and New Fashion Pork, among others. In total, the participants in the agreement represent more than half of the pork breeding herd in the United States.”

Van Orsdel said the agreement would establish a conservation buffer around the main lakes in Dickinson County, protecting them from factory livestock farms. “The private agreement terms include the establishment of a four-mile eco-tourism buffer around the main bodies of water in the Iowa Great Lakes region.”

The agreement calls for no new growth of livestock farms and no growth of existing livestock farms, plus no new acres added to manure plans in the eco-tourism buffer.

Although voluntary in nature and not legally binding, the pact is seen as a big step forward in bringing together livestock producers and conservationists on an issue that has been a cinder box of controversy in the lakes region in recent years.

Glen Christensen, who co-owns Christensen Farms with two brothers in Sleepy Eye, Minn., said the agreement does not include all livestock producers. “I’d like to make it clear at this time that we do not speak for the entire livestock industry,” Christensen said. “However, I do speak on behalf of Christensen Farms. We’ve elected to do this proactively and on our own, and the result being both livestock production and the tourism industry can co-exist together.”

State Rep. Mike May, whose District 6 constituents are from Dickinson and Clay counties, said the new agreement will likely make it easier to pass legislation that protects both agricultural interests and sensitive environmental areas in other parts of the state as well. “We’ve been unsuccessful over the last three years in garnering new legislation to address these issues,” May said. “But this agreement between a prominent lakes group and some of the heavy hitters in the livestock production industry is a great beginning.”

Proposed large-scale hog production facilities southwest of Milford and in northwestern Dickinson County in the Little Sioux River valley caused firestorms of debate over the past several years and were subsequently abandoned after environmental groups and concerned citizens protested.

And what if another livestock producer not involved in the new agreement comes forth with a proposed facility in Dickinson County? Brian Foster, founder of Insight Enterprise Consulting who helped craft the agreement, said a good neighbor policy would prevail. “The first thing we would do is call a meeting to talk about it and better understand their motivations and what their trying to accomplish,” Foster said. “We’ll explain to them our perspectives and hopefully persuade them otherwise. This does not carry the weight of law, but we can bring to them information and opinions of the local residents about their particular proposal.”

Van Orsdel said the agreement between IGLA and the livestock producers is “the best possible deal we could have struck short of legislation.” He said his organization would remain active on this and other issues. “IGLA is a growing organization,” Van Orsdel said, “and we want to pursue other challenges like the prevention of aquatic invasive species in our water bodies. We all hold the lakes area as a special place in our hearts.”

The Iowa Great Lakes Association is a not-for-profit 501c4 organization dedicated to protecting the Iowa Great Lakes region. More information can be found at www.iagreatlakes.com.