In the Dec. 24 edition of the Great Bend Tribune an AP article, “Judge rejects permits for Kansas hog operations” appeared.
Shawnee County District Court Judge Richard Anderson ruled that the Kansas Department of Health and Environment violated the state law when it issued two state permits for four swine operations in northwest Kansas’s Norton and Phillips counties in 2017 and 2018.
They were under the common management of Kansas hog farmer Terry Nelson, the report stated. But, they were organized as separate companies.
Restrictions on how close an operation can be to surface water is determined by how many animals it represents. Smaller facilities can be located closer to the water than larger facilities. According to the AP report, the permits allowed construction of each facility up to 250 feet away from surface water, where a larger facility would be required to be 500 feet away.
The report noted that the Sierra Club sued in 2018, arguing that the arrangement allowed the Nelson operation to skirt tougher regulations.
This isn’t the first time the Nelson group has been in the news for KDHE violations in the past couple of years. In December 2018, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported the company had negotiated a lower fine imposed by the KDHE after in 2017 it began construction on confined feeding facilities in Norton and Phillips counties without permits, and then ignored the state’s cease-and-desist orders to halt the work. The fine was reduced from $147,000 to $34,000.
Nelson Ag Companies, led by CEO Terry Nelson, tags itself as “a community invested leader in diversified agriculture,” according to the corporate website. The companies operate a row crop operation, a feed mill, a cattle feeding facility, a trucking company, a grain marketing company and, of course, a handful of swine operations. It includes Nelson Hog Farms, Husky Hogs LLC and Calvert Swine LLC. Plus, there are other operations of which Terry Nelson is an agent or that are under the management of family members and others with close ties, according to the Dec. 17, 2018 Capitol-Journal report.
Clearly, the Nelson family understands swine production on a much deeper level than most. The health of their animals is likely a top concern, and we would hope that concern extends to their employees and by extension the communities where they reside.
Concerns over placement of facilities in relation to surface water are well founded, so it is puzzling why a company like this would opt to skirt the regulations put in place by the KDHE, and equally puzzling why the KDHE would have issued the permits in the first place, considering their prior familiarity with the Nelson group.