by CHRIS ROGERS
One of the largest hog farms in Winona County plans to expand two feedlots outside St. Charles. Holden Farms of Northfield, Minn., applied to build new barns and add several thousand sows to their herds. Between the two sites, the farm hopes to increase its herd by 1,734 animal units (one sow is 0.4 animal units). Both sites would remain just under Winona County’s 1,500-animal-units-per-site limit, though the expansion was large enough to trigger a mandatory review by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).
With almost 40,000 sows and 200 contract farmers across Minnesota and Iowa, Holden Farms describes itself as one of the largest family-owned pork producers in the country. Fifth-generation farmer and Sow Division General Manager Nick Holden explained that the company has owned the two hog operations outside St. Charles for more than a decade. “We’ve been down in that area for a long time and we’ve got great employees and good neighbors that we work with,” he stated. Holden says the farm wants to continue being a good neighbor. The proposed would add 8-10 jobs, mostly farm hands.
The expanded hog feedlots would produce around 8.7 million gallons of manure annually, and Holden has secured deals with local landowners to apply that manure as fertilizer to over 4,000 acres across northwestern St. Charles Township and parts of Elba Township.
There are numerous homes within a mile of the two Holden Farms feedlots. Wells that supply drinking water to the city of Utica, Berea Moravian Church, Whitewater State Park, Lazy D Campground, and SEMA Equipment lie within two miles of the fields where the manure would be applied. A designated trout stream, Trout Run Creek, is 2,100 feet from the nearest manure application site. The South Branch of the Whitewater River — also a trout stream — lies 2,640 feet away.
Because of the porous, cracked bedrock in the area, both the project sites and the manure applications fields are in areas at “high risk to groundwater pollution,” according to the MPCA. However, MPCA staff wrote in an Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) completed for the project that, “The MPCA does not expect significant potential impacts to surface water resources from the project’s land application of manure activities,” and “the MPCA anticipates the project will not contribute to the existing water quality issues.”
In annual water quality reports, the MPCA has also warned Southeastern Minnesotans about water pollution caused by nitrates in synthetic fertilizer and manure. Asked about the potential for pollution from manure, MPCA Planner Nancy Drach said, “Manure applications — there are very specific requirements by the state [and county setbacks] for land applications.” There are rules in place to protect ground and surface water, she stated.
Before Holden Farms can get its general feedlot permit from the MPCA, it needs to complete the environmental review process. Holden Farms had to complete a 186-page EAW, in which farm consultants and MPCA experts studied the potential for runoff and odor. Right now the MPCA is seeking comments from the public about the proposed expansion. A 30-day public comment period window opened on January 2.
Once the comment period closes, the MPCA will review the comments and decide whether a more in-depth study of potential environmental effects is necessary. That study is called an Environment Impact Statement (EIS). If no EIS is needed, the project can move ahead with MPCA permit approval.
Holden Farms will also need a conditional use permit (CUP) approval from the Winona County Board.
The MPCA will host a public informational meeting on Thursday, January 12, from 7-8:30 p.m. at the St. Charles Community Center at 830 Whitewater Avenue, in St. Charles. There will be no public hearing at the meeting, but information on the project and how to make comments will be presented.
The complete EAW may be found online at www.pca.state.mn.us/oxpg691.
Written comments may be submitted to to Nancy Drach, MPCA, 520 Lafayette Road North, Saint Paul, Minn., 55155, or by email to email@example.com.