Tax Policy and Swine Production in Iowa, United States

By Dilly, Barbara J. | Journal of Ecological Anthropology, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Tax Policy and Swine Production in Iowa, United States


Dilly, Barbara J., Journal of Ecological Anthropology


Abstract

This paper examines county level decision-making regarding swine confinement permits in Iowa. The case study follows a 2003 Iowa State Legislature ruling that gives county supervisors the option to adopt a detailed Department of Natural Resources Master Matrix plan for swine manure management. In this research, I sought to understand environmental policy conflicts associated with industrialized hog production. This study examines four counties in North Central Iowa located in the region of rapidly expanding, corporate-formed, swine confinement operations. Ethnographic field research was conducted from May 2003 to October 2006. Comparison of qualitative and quantitative data for each of these four counties reveals different stakeholder and agroecology dynamics at the level of county decision-making processes. I explain these differences in terms of a family farm-corporate agribusiness continuum which reflects diverse local agricultural attitudes and practices related to environmental values, economic rationales and social investments. In some rural areas where family farm agricultural attitudes and practices related to livestock production persist along side of corporate agribusiness, there exist some county assessors, engineers, and auditors who seek to protect family farm social and cultural interests because of their stabilizing effect on the local environment and economy. This study explains why local county-level decision-makers have become proactive in supporting family farms and local businesses by challenging state policies biased in favor of corporate agribusiness.

Introduction

The March 2003 Iowa Stare Legislature decision (Senate File 2293) gave county boards of supervisors more control over decisions to permit or prohibit livestock confinement operations. The decision and the decision-making process reflected economic, political and environmental issues for various stakeholders. (1) The law reflected an acceleration of the centralization of hog production in the hands of fewer and larger externally funded agribusiness interests that was causing conflict between corporate agribusiness interests and local family farmers over access to markets and increasingly higher priced land. (2) The decision reflected the intensification of swine production and of the storage and application of manure that was generating conflict between urban residents and agriculture over residential quality of life issues such as air and water quality. (3) The Iowa State Legislature challenged any decisions made at local levels that attempted to regulate agricultural activity, fueling a growing conflict between county elected and appointed officials and the state over the legal authority of county supervisors. (4) The decision was a response to conservationists' concerns that the industrialization of swine production threatened air and water quality, habitat for wildlife, and soil fertility for future generations. Further, these issues reflected growing competition between federal environmental agencies and agricultural programs over scarce resources allocated for environmental resource quality and protection. As a result, these agencies grew increasingly proprietary with their data to justify continued funding for their programs. The Iowa State Legislature ruling that gave county decision makers the option to adopt the Department of Natural Resources "Master Matrix"1 was an attempt to address and reduce these conflicts.

The purpose of this study is to examine the effects of county level adoption of the Master Matrix both on those conflicts and on local agricultural decision making. I selected four counties in one region with a high concentration of swine confinement to compare local historical processes involved in expansion of swine confinement. Each county experiences a distinct arrangement of social, economic, political and environmental processes and thus represents a different place on the continuum between corporate agribusiness and small family farm swine production systems. …

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