By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
LIMA, Ill. -- Ashley Shupe got a firsthand look Wednesday at today's hog production.
Raised on a farm around Mendon, he was familiar with hog facilities of the past, but nothing like what he saw at D&B Farms near Lima.
"This is very impressive," said Shupe, a career Army man who just returned from Germany and was on his way to Seattle. "I wanted to see a new state-of-the-art pig confinement. I wanted to see the design changes."
Daron Duke, Brock Brackensick and their families showed off the new 2,480-head wean-to-finish hog farm at an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"People have been driving by, stopping in every now and then to check on things," Duke said. "We wanted to formally introduce it to them. We wanted people to be comfortable with the building, this style of agriculture."
Work on the building started in August, and the first pigs come into the building next week, arriving at 10 to 15 pounds. They'll leave in about six months tipping the scales at about 290 pounds. Cargill owns the pigs, while D&B owns and manages the facility.
The family and their partners --Western Illinois Pork Producers, Cargill Pork, First Farm Credit Services, Precision Structures Inc., Illinois Pork Producers Association and the Pork Checkoff -- celebrated the end of a yearlong process to plan and permit the facility, which came under fire from some neighbors who were concerned about odor, noise and traffic, and the potential impact on property values and the environment.
"We realize we can't make all people happy," Duke said. "We have scaled down the facility -- we were planning originally to build twice the facility -- once we realized there was concerns. We want to introduce this to them slowly and prove to them that we will be good neighbors. We will do what we say. This will not be a nuisance to them, nor will it affect property values, nor will it affect their quality of life. We're very confident of that."
Kevin Tushaus lives barely a quarter-mile away from the facility, and he's not comfortable with it or its prospects.
"I don't want to have 2,500 pigs in my backyard," Tushaus said. "I'm trying to be positive, to think maybe it won't be as bad as what I Imagine, but some of the stories I've heard are just horrible. I guess time will tell, but do I have to be the guinea pig here?"
Lima Township Road Commissioner Jeff Miller said the new facility is great and he has no concerns about the increased traffic.
"It's just regular maintenance. Nothing's going to be special about it," Miller said. "We've talked about in the spring when the weather is bad, what way to come in. And in the summer when the weather is decent, they're coming in another way with the feed trucks and the pigs."
Judy Koehler, who owns property across the road from the facility, worries about the facility's impact on its neighbors.
"We have a right to enjoy our rural setting, yet what the (facility) does is, it takes the value of my property and uses it for the interest of the owner and Cargill," Koehler said.
But Nic Anderson with the Illinois Livestock Development Group stressed the positive impact of such facilities across the state for both agriculture and the economy.
"This technology is what makes us a better industry. We have not only a consistent product for consumers, but we also take care of the animals to our best ability with the resources we have," Anderson said at the open house. "In the past year, the pork industry put up about 80 new permits for buildings much like this across the state. There's been over $75 million new infrastructure in the pork industry this year. Think about the economic opportunity for the state."
Lima Mayor Jeffrey Lomax said he's confident in how Duke will operate the facility.
"If they won't operate to a certain high standard, they're shooting themselves in the foot," Lomax said. "If they don't create a high-quality product, it will be money out of their pocket, like in any other business."
Both Duke and Brackensick already are in the business of agriculture -- Duke has a cow-calf operation, and Brackensick raises row crops -- and the new facility provided a way to expand.
Brackensick touted some of the facility's features, including more natural ventilation for the pigs and a building that takes less energy to operate.
"I think people won't really notice it once it gets up and going," he said. "They will see it as another barn."
The facility was approved for 4,960 head, but Duke said there's no plans to expand.
"This is a good size for us as a family for what we have for labor resources, what we have for land to use our organic fertilizer on," Duke said. "We will be injecting the manure to surrounding corn and soybean fields according to the crop needs based on our nutrient management plan."
Two neighbors of a new wean-to-finish hog facility near Lima are doing what they can to make sure similar facilities won't cause concerns elsewhere in the state.
The first pigs will arrive next week in the 2,480-head facility operated by Daron Duke, Brock Brackensick and their families.
Judy Koehler, who owns property across the road from the facility, and Kevin Tushaus, who lives about a quarter-mile away, both have raised questions about odor, noise and traffic from the operation, along with the potential impact on property values and the environment.
Koehler, a retired appellate judge who lives in the Chicago area, wants to see changes in state law governing livestock management facilities.
"It is my hope in the next legislative session those of us throughout Illinois concerned about individual livestock facilities can strengthen the law to account for the concerns," she said.
As part of the permitting process, the Adams County Board makes a recommendation on the facility, but the Illinois Department of Agriculture does not have to follow that recommendation.
"In my view, the County Board's decision should have some weight with the department," Koehler said. "In addition, I think individuals and groups of individuals who have been harmed, financially of physically, by individual livestock facilities should be given standing to sue. Right now the law is unclear."
Tushaus said he's been interviewed for a documentary being put together by Prairie Rivers Network to introduce legislation to change some of the state requirements.
"It just seems like these things are popping up all over the place," Tushaus said. "They should not be allowed to be so close to the residences."