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Hog Farmers Scramble to Drain Waste Pools Ahead of Hurricane Florence

While residents along the Carolina coasts rush to evacuate ahead of Hurricane Florence, hog farmers are in a race against time in an effort to keep their manure lagoons from flooding. In a worst-case scenario, the lagoons could erode from the expected 3 feet of rain, and collapse, spreading animal waste across the landscape and into nearby rivers, WFAE reports.

The hog farmers are pumping the liquid waste onto nearby fields as fast as they can, to give the lagoons as much chance as possible to handle the deluge. The problem is they’ve never been tested with so much rain before, so they’re not sure the strategy will even work. As one North Carolina hog farmer said, “Please pray for us!”

As a map on one of my articles about North Carolina’s hog farms illustrates, this state is filled with concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) with tens of thousands of hogs and the waste that goes with them — one county has 38 pigs per person in it! And, no matter where the CAFOs are, the waste is stored in open-air lagoons that they already know can be breached, especially in a hurricane.

In fact, it already happened in 1996 following Hurricane Fran; in1998 following Hurricane Bonnie; in 1999 following Hurricane Floyd; and in 2016 following Hurricane Matthew. In 1997, following manure spills that proved to be disastrous, North Carolina implemented a ban on the construction of new CAFOs, but the ban expired in 1997 (and loopholes allowed some CAFOs to be built even during the ban). And now, as the “big one” looms in, a big disaster beyond normal flooding could very well be about to happen.

Even so, even as CAFOs have polluted waterways and endangered residents' health, outside of hurricane season and during the season, they've still been allowed to flourish in the state. We’ll know in a few days — or less — whether the lagoon-dumping will keep the vulnerable structures from crumbling and causing even further damage.

But, no matter what happens, this is a critical red flag of what can, and eventually will happen, if something isn’t done soon to end CAFOs, period. Even when a storm isn’t approaching, the excess of nutrients that runs off or leaches from CAFO waste lagoons lead to algae overgrowth in waterways, depleting the water of oxygen and killing fish and other marine life in expansive dead zones.

This, combined with the excess fertilizers applied to monocrops like corn and soy, which are also used for CAFO animal feed, sends a steady stream of nitrogen and phosphorus to both surface and groundwater, spreading potentially disease-causing organisms and unsustainable amounts of nutrients along the way. CAFO companies will argue that they’re feeding the world, and that they are necessary to the food chain. But nothing could be further from the truth. The real solution lies in changing agricultural practices from industrial to regenerative.

Choosing grass fed products like grass fed beef and bison over those raised in CAFOs is a solution that we can all take part in. Look for pastured pork, free-range poultry and other animal products raised naturally in concert with the environment and actively avoid those raised on CAFOs. And stand with me in fighting CAFOs and insisting that regenerative farming practices take their place — and, yes, pray that for now those lagoons don’t break.