Is Representative Billy Richardson Showing False Loyalty to NC Farmers?

It is shameful to see a state representative (and lawyer) from Fayetteville write a column that suggests he supports and sides with farm families – then repeats almost verbatim the tales told by out-of-state lawyers who are seeking money from our lawfully operating farms.

 Richardson refers to “pits” on our farms. He should know better. These treatment systems were designed by scientists and permitted by the state for farmers – who were encouraged to use them to ensure our economy in rural North Carolina would remain strong.

 These systems have been operated well and soundly for decades, through Democratic and Republican administrations. They do a remarkable job of capturing, storing and treating waste – and protecting the environment in the process – which is why other industries and some municipalities also use them.

 Billy Richardson should use more care in maligning an important industry in North Carolina. He should visit a farm, which our industry has pleaded with the judge to allow for the jury to do.

 What he will find is that lagoons have very little, if any, odor.

 We can’t turn photos into scratch-and-sniff. And we get it – look at a photo of a lagoon, and you might think it’s smelly.

 That’s not the data. It’s not the experience of our neighbors. It’s not what reporters who actually visit the farms say, either – the last being critic Ned Barnett of the N&O. He wrote of visiting a 15,000-hog operation of Morris Murphy:

“I visited on a clear, hot day. I didn’t smell any hog waste odor at Murphy’s house. The air was free of odor as we took a golf cart tour of the property.”

 That’s typical.

 Sadly, Richardson has swallowed whole hog the talking points of his lawyer buddies who are trying to profit from the lawsuits.

 He should educate himself instead of seeking to politicize our farms just in time for the fall elections.

 What he would see is that the majority of citizens are showing tremendous and heartfelt support for our farm families.

 What he would see is that the farmers he claims to have reverence for are being sued out of business by those in his profession who do not have North Carolina’s interests in mind.

 He is showing faux loyalty to farmers. And real loyalty to plaintiff’s lawyers.

Nobody wins

In a recent article by Lisa Sorg @ NC Policy Watch, she says, “After a long day working with patients, all Joyce Messick (plaintiff) wants is to lay her burdens down at her doorsteps, sit on her porch and drink a Sun Drop.”  But she can’t, Sorg added, because she lives near a hog farm.When you return home after working all day it must be nice to be able to leave your burdens at the door, but that’s something that farmers across North Carolina are seldom able to do.  You see, when a farmer walks through the door of his home after working a long day, the crops are still in the field, the animals are still in the barns, and the burdens of raising the food we eat are still on his shoulders.Of course, you have to take Lisa Sorg’s article with a grain of salt.  She’s not a reporter for a newspaper or TV station – she works for an arm of an activist group which has longstanding ties to Mona Lisa Wallace, who’s one of the lawyers suing Smithfield Foods.  And, in her article, Ms. Sorg repeated the same litany of the attacks we’ve heard lawyers make in Raleigh courtrooms over the past few months – attacks which have farmers wondering how people have become so disconnected from the realities of farming.  For instance, Ms. Sorg wrote that “Theoretically, a person could run a hog farm without ever stepping inside a barn.”  That kind of nonsense leaves farmers shaking their heads.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The standard in pig husbandry is simple: Keep an eye on every pen – every pig – every day.  Monitoring the pig’s environment and ensuring the animals have food and water can’t be accomplished from outside the barn.What can be done outside the barns is careful management of one of the most effective and economically feasible systems in the pork industry, the lagoon and spray field.  When managed correctly, when effluent is applied within state rules and regulations, the benefits are many and the chance of harm is minuscule.  The nitrogen contained in manure is absorbed by crops at much higher rates, and is not as easily leached into groundwater, as the nitrate forms in most synthetic fertilizers. (Dr. Pius Ndegwa, Ph.D. 2014)Regardless of these facts, Lisa Sorg asked NC Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Troxler at a press conference Friday, “Why isn’t Smithfield upgrading the waste management systems in North Carolina since there has been a lot of discussion about it in the trial?”  A better question to ask would have been, “Is the picture of hog farmers being painted by lawyers in these trials accurate?”  Because, at the end of the day, the reason for these trials is simple: Lawyers filed these lawsuits against Smithfield Foods to make money. And in the courtroom last Friday they succeeded.  The jury returned an outrageous $473.5 million-dollar verdict.  How on earth could one hog farm in one rural county do almost half a billion dollars in damages?  Is that justice?  It defies common sense.We are thankful that on Friday, several miles down the road from where the verdict was being read in Federal Court, dozens of national agricultural leaders convened at the Gov. James G Martin building on the NC State Fairgrounds.  Their goal was to better understand the threat of nuisance lawsuits to all of agriculture and begin work on putting protections in place to protect our right to farm.  Otherwise, nobody wins.