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A joint public hearing between the Bedford County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors packed the supervisors’ meeting chamber, Monday night.
It wasn’t even standing room only. Every seat was taken, people lined three sides of the room while others stood in the hall because there was no room for them.
The subject of the meeting was a proposal to change the zoning ordinance setback requirements for “commercial feedlots” for pigs and chickens to the same setbacks required for cattle feedlots. The change was suggested by the county’s agricultural board because the required setbacks were so large that no local farmer had enough land to provide them. According to W. P. Johnson, a farmer who spoke for the agricultural board, the new setbacks will provide county farmers with an opportunity for additional income that will allow more farmers to farm full-time.
Johnson said that a local farmer will need to make an investment of $180,000 to $250,000 to meet a pork producer’s requirement for a hog house and between $300,000 and $600,000 for a chicken house.
He said these are owned by the farmer, who will build them at his own risk.
Speakers opposing the measure at the nearly three-hour hearing, cited concerns about the impact of animal waste and threats to the water supply. Edri Bayes said manure would have antibiotics and growth hormones in it.
“There are also the moral issues of inhumane treatment of animals [in confined feeding operation],” she said.
Michael Trussell said feed lot operations will threaten the drinking water supply because these operations will require large amounts of water for the animals to drink. They will have to drill deeper wells, which will depress the water table and force their neighbors to drill deeper wells.
Trussell also cited concern about the potential for manure run-off getting into streams.
Nathan Hatcher said heavy antibiotic use in intensive feeding operations are creating antibiotic resistant bacteria.
Others supported the proposal.
Gary Wright, who said he works for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), said his agency issues the permits for these operations.
“We do regular inspections,” he said. “We’re out there.”
Richard Ruff, a Bedford County farmer who raises beef cattle said manure disposal won’t be a problem. He said he currently brings in truckloads of chicken litter from large chicken operations because he needs it for fertilizer.
Dr. Don Gardner said he has been a food animal veterinarian for 44 years. He said animals do well in confined operations. They are protected from weather and the chickens are protected from hawks. He also echoed Ruff on the question of manure disposal. He raises 550 head of heifers in a cow/calf operation on 500 acres of land and trucks in chicken litter in a quantity equal to what would be produced by four chicken houses, to fertilize crops.
The planning commission voted 4-2 to recommend the proposed setback requirements with District 4 Planning Commission member Josiah Tillett, District 1 Planning Commission member Lewis Huff, Planning Commission Chairman Jerry Craig and District 5 Planning Commission member Tommy Scott supporting it. District 3 Planning Commission member Jeff Burdett and District 3 Planning Commission member Harold Brown cast the dissenting votes.
The supervisors passed it on a 6-1 vote, with a modification to the recommended setback of 300 feet from a house. District 3 Supervisor Steve Wilkerson suggested increasing this to 500 feet. Board Chairman John Sharp cast the lone dissenting vote. Sharp felt that all the setbacks had been reduced too much.