Circus moves on, leaving a nasty smell

RUPERT CORNWELL

Winterset, Iowa

The caucuses are over and aspiring Republican presidents are gone. Behind them, they leave what are politely known as anaerobic lagoons - giant stinking lakes of sewage from huge indoor pig-rearing plants which have been the real controversy in the state these past 12 months.

In recent years, vast "hog confinement units" have become a staple of the Iowa landscape, long structures containing thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of animals. Nature being what it is, however, pigs (or hogs as they are known in these parts) produce waste, a grown one more than an adult human. So where to put the stuff?

The answer has been the manure lagoons, vast holding ponds of excrement, lined with clay and producing odours across the neighbouring countryside that require no description. Then, last summer, some of the lagoons burst. In one case, 1.5 million gallons of manure found its way into the Iowa river, polluting 40 miles of water and slaughtering fish.

The result was uproar, and pressure intensified to tighten state laws governing the pig mega-farms. But the problem will not be easily solved. The clamour reflects a sad and perhaps irreversible fact of life - that the small independent family farm, once picture-postcard symbol of the values and virtues of the American Mid-West, is an institution facing extinction.

These days, they are being muscled aside by giant conglomerates, or simply folded into them. The Iowa of Field of Dreams and The Bridges of Madison County may appear hog and corn heaven. In fact, only 10 per cent of the state's 2.8 million people live on farms. Iowa exports more industrial goods than agricultural products.

Battered by the farm crisis of the 1980s, and unable to match the economies of scale of the producers, many family farms had no choice but to sign up with the food processors. In doing so, the link between farmers and their land has been broken. They have been turned into subcontractors, suppliers of raw materials in quantities and at prices dictated by others. Hence the colossal "hog confinement units".

But they do provide jobs of a kind. Make life tougher for "Big Pork", Iowa's Republican Governor Terry Branstad has warned, and the business will simply take off for places like the south-eastern US, eager to attract new business and less squeamish about nasty smells. Thus would the decay of Iowa's traditional agriculture merely be hastened.

Not surprisingly, the presidential candidates have mostly ducked the issue. The rise of vertically integrated agri-business concerns like Cargill, Ralston-Purina, and Archer Daniels Midland has been in part due to farm legislation by Congress. Bob Dole, from rural Kansas and often dubbed "the Senator from ADM," has been notably quiet on the pig wars. Pressed on the issue, Steve Forbes insists the problem "is for the state of Iowa to decide" - reasonable enough for a man who has declared war on meddling by the "Jurassic Park" that is Washington DC, but weasel words nonetheless.

Only Pat Buchanan has spoken out forthrightly, calling the giant hog confinement areas "factories, not farms". Therein perhaps lies hope for opponents: if the places can be defined as factories, they will become liable to much stricter industrial pollution rules. Meantime, Mr Buchanan's sympathy for the old-fashioned farmer may be one reason for his apparent success here.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - PHP & MVC Frameworks

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing company in Belvedere ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior PHP Developer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking to work in a sm...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Specialist - HR Team

£26000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders