Dereke Dunkirk stands near one of his two wean-to-finish barns on his farm in Christian County. While Dunkirk has had no problems with siting the hog production facilities, he worries that future livestock farmers could be hampered or even stopped by a bill currently moving through the Illinois General Assembly.
Dereke Dunkirk stands near one of his two wean-to-finish barns on his farm in Christian County. While Dunkirk has had no problems with siting the hog production facilities, he worries that future livestock farmers could be hampered or even stopped by a bill currently moving through the Illinois General Assembly.
MORRISONVILLE, Ill. — The space around Dereke Dunkirk is the point.

When he stands outside the two wean-to-finish hog barns near his home farm, there’s open space. The nearest farm one can see with the naked eye is the farm where Dunkirk, wife Chelsea and their three children live — the same farm where Dunkirk himself was raised.

Down the road the other way are his parents, Gary and Marietta. A longtime farming neighbor lives the other way.

“In this county, we’re fairly sparsely populated, and we have a lot of open spaces to build even with the setbacks,” Dunkirk said.

If a piece of legislation now in the Illinois Legislature gets approved, options could be limited for current and future livestock farmers in Illinois and any plans they might have to start farming or expand farming operations.

The House bill is sponsored by state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, a Champaign Democrat. The bill is co-sponsored by fellow Democratic state Reps. Laura Fine of Glenview, Kelly Cassidy of Chicago and Emanuel Chris Welch of Westchester.

The bill was introduced on Feb. 13 and is in the Rules Committee.

The measure makes major alterations to the state’s Livestock Facilities Management Act, the rules and regulations that govern siting and construction of livestock facilities in Illinois.

The regulations govern construction, design and location of livestock facilities. Farmers wanting to build or expand must abide by the rules set out in the act.

Jakobsson did not return calls for comment on the bill, but an assistant who answered the phone at her Springfield office said the bill is not expected to move in this session of the General Assembly.

Impact Feared

Even though the bill may not move, Dunkirk and other livestock producers are worried about the impact it could have.

Dunkirk’s first building was constructed in 2006, after he went through the siting process. He had come home after graduating from the University of Illinois in 2002 to farm with his father.

But even 12 years ago, land and land rents were expensive, especially for a young farmer.

“The decision to build the barn was to help another generation come back to the farm. It was a way for us to expand,” Dunkirk said. “Buying land, even then, was tough. You can’t just go out and buy $10,000 an acre ground every day. It wasn’t as bad as today, but it was still high.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program was becoming popular, and Dunkirk’s mother, Marietta, saw that option as a way to defray the cost of a new barn.

“We explored the options to see what we had to do and what we had to do to go through the LMFA and the siting process,” Dunkirk said.

He chose well-known livestock facility design engineers, Springfield-based Frank & West, and Longhorn Buildings, owned by Jack Kirk, out of Beecher City, to build the 1,200-head wean-to-finish barn.

“We started the LMFA process in the spring and filed our Notice of Intent to Construct in the spring,” Dunkirk said.

That filing sets off a five-step plan to insure review of an application. That process includes notification of the county board, as well as publication of the notice in a local newspaper; giving the county board 30 days to request a public meeting about the project and allowing any county resident to request a meeting via a petition signed by 75 or more registered county voters; conducting an informational meeting if requested; submission of a nonbinding county board vote to the Illinois Department of Agriculture and its review of the application.

After the notice is filed, which requires notifying neighboring landowners and providing the state ag department with a catalog of information, including the building design plans, Dunkirk waited.

“You wait until you hear from the IDOA. The first time around, they had a couple of questions about the design, and those were answered by Frank & West. Once the questions were answered, the plan was approved,” Dunkirk said.

The building was erected, and Dunkirk, along with new bride Chelsea, hosted the first Illinois Pork Producers Association open house for a new hog facility in August 2012.

The Dunkirks moved to contract finishing for Borgic Farms, owned by former Illinois Pork Producers Association President Phil Borgic — Dunkirk also is a past president and board member — in 2010. They next decided to add a 2,480-head building to the existing facility.

“We were worried about feed costs, and I thought it would be beneficial, take some of the risk out at our end, to contract with Phil,” Dunkirk said.

Dunkirk had to go back through the process, and much of the information regarding the site itself was able to be reused from the 2006 siting.

“Most of the landowners had stayed the same, and we worked with Frank & West and Jack Kirk,” Dunkirk said. “The process in 2012 was pretty streamlined.”

The proposed legislation would change that.

New Provisions

The bill includes provisions that would give the final decision over livestock facilities to the county board. Currently, county boards can issue a nonbinding, advisory vote on the siting of facilities.

While Dunkirk notified his county board members in Christian County, traditionally a rural and agricultural county, he thinks the bill might make it more difficult for his fellow livestock farmers in the more populated parts of the state.

“The concern I have is that not all county boards are on a level playing field. You’d get some county board that would be more difficult, some could impose a moratorium on livestock farm construction,” Dunkirk said.

The Jakobsson bill, which also is opposed by the Illinois Beef Association, would require that farmers file manure management plans for their livestock facilities with the public and the bill would allow for public access to those plans.

“You’re putting a lot of information on that (certified nutrient management plan) that could be accessed by the public,” Dunkirk said.

For Dunkirk and for other farmers, the safety of their families plays a major factor in their opposition. Many of the management plans list a farm address or mailing address that is the home farm of the producers.

Those addresses note the locations where livestock farmers and their families — the Dunkirks have three young children — live.

The bill would change the setback distances that farms have to be from the nearest neighbor. Currently, locations have to be a quarter mile from a non-farm residence and half a mile from a populated area.

Those would be changed to a half mile from any occupied residence and a mile from any populated area. The setbacks would increase for facilities with more than 1,000 animal units, which translates to 2,480 head of hogs and 1,000 head of beef cattle.

“There are a lot of areas of the state that aren’t as sparsely populated as where I live, for instance, in northern Illinois and western Illinois, northeastern Illinois. It could get to the point where those setbacks would prohibit farmers from being able to build, and that limits opportunities for livestock farmers,” Dunkirk said.

Any additional expansion of livestock facilities would be treated as new facilities and subject to the new, expanded regulations.

“It works. The LMFA, as it is today, works. At the state level, the LMFA works — it’s protection for us and it’s protection for the public because it’s accountability. We can’t build a barn where it’s not supposed to be,” Dunkirk said.

Environmental groups that have campaigned against the livestock industry in Illinois say the changes are needed.

“Fundamental changes to the Illinois livestock law are necessary and long overdue. The environment and the quality of life and health of hundreds of family farmers and rural residents from across the state have been sacrificed by an unfit law favoring polluting factory farms and agribusiness interests for too long,” said Danielle Diamond, attorney for the Illinois Citizens for Clean Air & Water and executive director of the Socially Responsible Agriculture Project.