‘We do things differently’

You’ve seen one confined animal feeding operation, you’ve seen them all, right? As the Tin Pan Alley song says, it ain’t necessarily so.

“We do things differently,” says Heidi Vittetoe, who runs J.W. Vittetoe Ltd. with her husband. The Vittetoes process 200,000 hogs a year through a series of contracts with other farmers in and near Washington, Iowa. Iowa leads the nation in hog production. In fact, 200,000 is a mighty big number. Where does all the hog waste go?

Vittetoe sees it as a continuing circle. True, hogs generate lots of waste. But Iowa, she notes, is one of America’s foremost crop-growing states. The waste can be turned into fertilizer and used to nurture grain-growing cropland. Many of those grains will be harvested and used in the hogs’ feed. And the cycle starts anew.

This is different than in, say North Carolina, where people living near hog farms complain bitterly that the smell of hog waste kept in euphemistically named lagoons is so bad they have to stay indoors with their windows closed at all times of the year. There is also the danger of rupture of a waste-laden lagoon despite the clay-packed walls.

One lagoon at a farm in Washington, Iowa, was nowhere near the size of the mammoth lagoons in North Carolina. “If you have to truck in your (animals’) food,” Vittetoe says, “you’re going to have a problem with your waste.”

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