Newburg, Minn. residents really, really don’t want their township to smell like pig poop

It turns out, 5,000 pigs make a lot of liquid manure.

It turns out, 5,000 pigs make a lot of liquid manure. Getty Images/iStockphoto

While the 2040 plan grips Minneapolis, another land use debate rages in the south, over a piece of land in Fillmore County, about 60 miles south of Rochester.

Farmer Al Hein wants to plop nearly 5,000 pigs in a new swine farrowing facility on the property. The setup would include two barns, an “animal mortality composting building,” a storm water basin, and a watering well for the livestock.

It would also include a series of concrete pits below the barns, which, at capacity, would hold nearly 9 million gallons of liquid manure.

Five thousand pigs, it turns out, produce a little over 7 million gallons of liquified poop a year, which would then be used as a fertilizer for 700 acres of croplands. That is, if the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) decides everything is on the up-and-up.

That remains to be seen. The Catalpa Ag feedlot has been put on hold while the residents of Newburg Township demand additional and more in-depth environmental studies on the proposal. There are concerns about sinkholes and poop seeping into the area’s porous, spongy karst bedrock.

And the residents haven’t been quiet about it. The 771 comments received during the first public comment period added up, according to the MPCA, to a record number for a debate about a feedlot proposal. Back in September, the MPCA had to postpone its decision on whether to order an environmental impact study, in part, so staff could read all the letters.

The language in Catalpa’s proposal and the agency’s responses has been pretty officious, but the overwhelming majority of the residents of Newberg are mincing exactly zero words about what concerns them about this project.

There are the possible sinkholes, and karst, and water quality, sure... but mostly they’re worried their town will smell like pig poop.

“I hope these crazy people come to our ice cream social and enjoy our good food and like the smell of the swine feed lot!!!” wrote Dee Erickson.

From Margaret Harper: “Hello! I’m going to keep this short and sweet. I live next to a ‘hobby farm’ that has less than 10 or so pigs. The smell of those pigs alone is enough to keep me up and disrupt my gardening when I’m outside.”

And this, from Edward Hershberger: “I live about 1.5 miles from this site and we don’t have a washer or dryer so we hang our [clothes] out to dry, so put yourself in my shoes, how would you like to wear pig-smelling [clothes] for the rest of your [life]?”

As of the most recent public meeting about the proposal, we know that there’s probably no danger of a sinkhole on the barn site. We also know that there’s an ongoing argument about whether it’s sitting on vulnerable karst bedrock. And we know that the residents are still pretty ticked off about this and have submitted 200 more comments.

The MPCA’s commissioner has until the end of the year to decide whether a more thorough environmental study is justified or required, or whether Catalpa can go ahead with its pig plan. Whatever happens, Newburg residents aren’t likely to let it go unnoticed.