When you think of agriculture in America, pig farming is not always the first thing to come to mind. But pig farming is a large industry, and according to the USDA Census of Agriculture, it has sales of over 22.5 billion dollars. Although pig farming is profitable, it is harming the environment.
Like most industries, pig farmers are more concerned with making money than they are about their impact on the environment. Pig farming has an effect on the production of greenhouse gases, and it releases nitrogen and phosphorus into the environment. This nitrogen and phosphorus comes from pig manure and fertilizer, and can eventually make it’s way into lakes and rivers.
Recently the Buffalo River has been polluted by pig farmers. The Buffalo National River is a free-flowing river located in northern Arkansas that stretches 135 miles. So how is something so seemingly small, such as a pig farm, affecting such a treasured river?
The C&H is a pig farm in Mount Judea. This city was “lucky” enough to get the first pig farm in the state registered with a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) permit. This permit allows this pig farm to hold over 6,000 pigs. 6,000 pigs create a lot of waste, with, you guessed it, pig manure. The C&H reported that yearly, they alone are creating over 2 million gallons of manure and wastewater.
So where does this excess waste go? It has to go somewhere, and most of it goes into a creek flowing directly into the Buffalo River. Pig manure contains many types of bacteria, as well as the phosphorus and nitrogen mentioned before. How can these common elements harm visitors of the river, as well as the river itself?
This flow of nitrogen and phosphorus into the river happens because of the solubility of these elements. This allows them to be easily transferred to nearby water sources. Although some amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus in water can be a good thing because it helps provide growth and habitats for fish and other water dwellers, too much of it can be be a bad thing. When a body of water becomes overwhelmed with these elements, it begins to harm the environment in and around the water. One big problem is the growth of algae. The algae grows at a pace too fast for the environment around it to keep up . It can contaminate the water and harm the fish by removing oxygen from the water that they need to survive. Not only fish, but humans can also be directly affected. Humans can become ill if they come in direct contact with the water, drink the water, or even consume fish that has been inside the water.
The Buffalo National River is just one body of water being directly affected by pig farmers. There has already been a large growth in algae since the C&H set foot in Mount Judea, and people are beginning to notice. The solution to this growing problem may not be in black and white, but there are things that we can do to help. There are other options that can be introduced, such as a tax on the farm’s waste, or having the farm moved to another location that does not harm the river and its watershed. The Buffalo River Watershed Alliance has been making contributions to help save the Buffalo and help it stay as beautiful as it was before the C&H came in. The Alliance’s mission is to help keep the Buffalo River beautiful by providing education on the issue, working on the closure of the C&H, and supporting a halt on future pig farms near the river and around its watershed. There are other organizations such as the Ozark Society and the National Parks Conservation Association working to aid the Buffalo and to keep its beauty. These organizations have come together to form the Buffalo River Coalition, and are working towards a clear future for the Buffalo River.
The Buffalo River has been a wonderful place for family and friends to visit and explore for many years, and I hope that it can continue to be a wonderful place for years to come. With more education, research, and help on the issue, we can have the pig waste out of the Buffalo before we know it.
Haley Johnson is a student of Intermediate Microeconomics at the University of Central Arkansas. The column has been vetted by Joe McGarrity, a professor of economics at the University of Central Arkansas. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.