Two sides of a coin
Concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) can act as a double-edged sword. A new facility can rejuvenate struggling rural economies with much needed jobs and tax revenue, but often lawsuits result from the potential subsequent odor problems, which can hurt property values and quality of life for its neighbors.
The economic value of CAFOs to Missouri remains high. A 2011 study funded by MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resource's Commercial Agriculture Program found that the economic benefit in northwest Missouri totaled about $1.1 billion each year for the region.
Yet, in 2010, a jury awarded one northwest Missouri group of landowners $11 million in a lawsuit against one CAFO, when they ruled that the smell and flies from the facility harmed their quality of life. In spring 2011, the Missouri State General Assembly passed a bill that would limit the monetary award for so-called "nuisance lawsuits" to the value of a person's property, which Gov. Jay Nixon signed into law in May.
Talk of further federal regulation also makes it prudent for CAFOs to be proactive in managing their emissions to improve air quality. The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting similar studies to understand overall emissions from farm facilities with a distant eye on future rules.
Lim said university research on emission models parallels EPA's efforts, but avoids the influence of regulations and politics, and university emission models can be compared with EPA models when the agency considers regulatory changes.
Lim works as part of MU Extension's Commercial Agriculture Program and in ag systems management for the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources to improve air quality and waste management in large animal production.
While there's still some way to go in perfecting biofilters and bringing the price down, investing a few thousands to a few hundreds of thousands of dollars to implement a biofilter system in an operation pales in comparison to what lawsuits can cost a company.
"When a producer is more proactive it gives the impression that he's being responsible and a good neighbor," Lim said. "We've already learned so much but we want to further carry on and refine biofilters to be more specific and drive down the cost and maintenance so more people can use this technology."
The computer model will be available to use online later this fall. For more information, contact Lim at firstname.lastname@example.org.