The 23-11 vote to send the bill to the Missouri House fell largely along party lines, with Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Jackson County, the only Republican to join the Senate's ten Democrats in opposition.

A controversial attempt to stop counties from regulating large animal operations was approved last week in the Missouri Senate.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, would establish a statewide policy for regulating confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, and roll back the regulations that have already been passed in 20 counties, including Cooper, Howard and Pettis counties.

The 23-11 vote to send the bill to the Missouri House fell largely along party lines, with Sen. Mike Cierpiot, R-Jackson County, the only Republican to join the Senate’s ten Democrats in opposition. Sen. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, voted in favor of the bill.

The House still has to approve the bill before becoming law.

Republicans and Democrats painted different pictures of who operates CAFOs in Missouri. To Republicans, CAFOs are the only way for many farmers to make enough money for their children to work with the operation as adults. Democrats argued the bill would benefit large companies like Chinese-owned Smithfield, the largest pork producer in the U.S., which owns several hog CAFOs and smaller hog operations in Missouri.

To the Democratic senators, the bill would keep communities from regulating CAFOs to protect their own health. To most Republican senators, the bill stops counties from smothering operators who need to expand to survive.

During a nearly twelve-hour, overnight debate earlier in the week, Democrats tried to make twelve different changes to the bill, and four were approved in some form.

Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, suggested creating a new joint agriculture committee with five state senators, five representatives, and representatives of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources.

The committee would be responsible for producing annual reports on the economic impact of farming, environmental issues, and incentives for reducing emissions from farming.

Holsman said he still doesn’t support the underlying bill, because it takes away local residents’ voices over CAFOs in their area. Even with his amendment, regulation would be left to the state, but the committee would give concerned residents a place to be heard.

Sen. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis, added setback requirements for applying manure from a CAFO on the surface of a field. Unlike the application requirements the Cooper County Public Health Center Board adopted last year, Schupp’s amendment has varying setback distances from different sources of water and does not require manure applicators to have a nutrient management plan.

Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, said even with Holsman’s committee, the 197 members of the Missouri General Assembly would still have the only say in regulating CAFOs. However, allowing localities to regulate CAFOs was “part of the deal” between lawmakers that sent the “Right to Farm” amendment to voters in 2014, he said.

“Had there not been that deal, I’m not persuaded that the freedom to farm amendment would have gone forward through the process,” he said. “That amendment might not have gone to the voters.”

Most of the Democrats’ attempts to change the bill were rejected by the Republican majority.

Nasheed tried to expand setback requirements, which determine how close CAFO structures can be to buildings on adjoining land.

For the smallest Class I CAFOs, which have the equivalent of 1,000 head of cattle, Nasheed proposed raising the setback from 1,000 feet to one mile. For the largest CAFOs, containing over 7,000 animal units, Nasheed proposed raising the setback from 3,000 feet to two miles.

To comply with the one-mile setback, an operator would need 2,000 acres, Bernskoetter said. That would ensure that all new CAFOs are owned by large companies that can afford to buy that much land, he said. It defeats one of the purposes of the bill, to make it easier for young people to start animal operations.

“They don’t have to go out and buy hundreds of acres to start their own farming operations, they can possibly stay on their parents’ farm,” he said.

Nasheed also wanted the Missouri Geological Survey to look at all Class I CAFOs to see if the state should install groundwater monitoring wells because groundwater is especially vulnerable to pollution at the site. Currently, the survey only has to look at the largest class of CAFOs, and only those that store manure in a lagoon.

The existing rule let the state Clean Water Commission turn down requests to set up groundwater monitoring at the Tipton East hog CAFO in southern Cooper County earlier this year. The opponents of Tipton East argued caves, channels and sinkholes that occur in the area’s karst geology puts groundwater at a high risk.

Representatives of Pipestone, the Minnesota-based owner of Tipton East, said they weren’t opposed to groundwater monitoring, but the commission decided it didn’t have the authority to order monitoring on the Class IC CAFO.

Cierpiot, who represents eastern Jackson County, where residents have pushed back against the expansion of the Valley Oaks cattle feedlot near Lone Jack, tried to change the bill so that a county could regulate CAFOs if a majority of voters approved the regulation in a general election.

People would still have control over their county, but a “renegade” county health board or commission couldn’t pass CAFO regulations the people don’t want, he said.

Bernskoetter said he couldn’t support the amendment, because it would still let any county regulate CAFOs.

Sifton tried to add a requirement that foreign companies give up their agricultural land to a U.S.-owned company. The legislature opened up to one percent of Missouri’s agricultural land to foreign ownership in 2013, a week before W.H. Group bought Smithfield.

Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, represents much of northwest Missouri, where Smithfield and its subsidiaries have a large presence, employing thousands of people. Sifton’s bill would hurt the economy of the region, Hegeman said. There isn’t a lot of land owned by foreign companies in his district, but there’s enough that forcing the companies to divest would have a major impact, he said.

“I can’t chance harming these hardworking folks,” he said.

bcrowley@gatehousemedia.com