YANKTON COUNTY, S.D. (KCAU) – For decades, agriculture has been South Dakota’s largest industry, but what that industry looks like may be changing.
“Farming needs to change in order to survive. The reality is we can’t make a living on small farms,” Yankton CAFO hog farmer Karl Schenk said.
CAFO farming is nothing new in states like Iowa, Nebraska, and Minnesota, but South Dakota is starting to see more of these facilities being built.
“South Dakota is a state that’s a little late to the game,” said Schenk.
The state has had 18 new CAFO’s put in production over the last 18 months. One of those was built in Yankton County.
“Margins are so small you have to have so many acres to earn a good living and farmers should be allowed to earn a good living. And this allows for diversification and it allows for a steady income,” said Schenk, “We need to create opportunities in rural America for the next generation to come back and farm.”
Instead of holding animals in fenced fields, outdoor pens or open barns, CAFOs hold animals en masse inside confined concrete barns. Something Schenk says is actually healthier for the livestock.
“The environment is controlled. The animals do better in a controlled environment,” Schenk said.
Which, in turn, is good for profits.
“So, they’re gaining weight more quickly and efficiently and we’re using their manure for our crops. So it’s a very sustainable circle,” said Schenk.
“You go past that one barn and they’re screaming all the time,” Yankton resident Cathy Weiss said.
Some Yankton residents have expressed both emotional and physical concerns over the expansion of CAFOs in the area. A lot of it has to do with the smell.
“The people who live close by have breathing difficulties and you can’t spend as much time outside because of the smell,” said Weiss.
Yankton resident Emily Radech said, “The odor impacted us a lot. The smell was so bad that it would burn our eyes and our throat.”
Residents also believe CAFOs will lower property values and have the potential to pollute the environment.
“Yankton is just a little jewel in South Dakota. The thought of filling it with pigs makes me sick. Everything that is beautiful about Yankton County will be gone,” said Radech.
“There is a lot of fear out there, a lot of misstatements of the truth and there’s a lot of positive aspects to these barns,” said Schenk.