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Law appears to side with pig farm

Land-use conflicts are nothing new, and the one shaping up near Ashland is a classic. Operators of a free-range pig farm want to add a chicken-slaughtering and meat-processing facility on their property. Neighbors, including Weisinger’s winery, are objecting to what they fear will be runoff into an irrigation canal, odors and other disturbances.

At issue is an application from Uproot Meats to add a two-story meat processing building and a one-story chicken house to the farm’s 28-acre property above Siskiyou Boulevard southeast of Ashland. The owners say they are raising free-range pigs on the hillside property, using heritage breed pigs that historically have been raised on British hillsides, producing more muscular, better tasting meat.

The application seeks permission to slaughter up to 20,000 chickens per year, including animals raised on the property and chickens raised elsewhere. The permit also would allow pork to be processed into sausage and other products.

Jackson County Development Services tentatively approved the application last month. An appeal period starts next week.

Neighbors are objecting, saying the uphill location threatens downhill properties with runoff that also could contaminate a Talent Irrigation District canal below the farm. John Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery, also downhill from Uproot Meats, says odors, runoff and traffic could negatively affect his outdoor wine-tasting operation.

State law allows what the owners want to do on land zoned for farming. Chicken slaughtering facilities are expressly permitted on land zoned exclusive farm use. So are wineries. And the state’s Right to Farm law, enacted in 1993 and updated in 1995 and 2001, protects farmers from court action based on noises, smells, dust or other nuisances customarily associated with farming.

If runoff from the pig farm is not contained on the property and flows into the irrigation canal or onto neighboring properties, that’s another matter. The Oregon Department of Agriculture’s fact sheet on the Right to Farm law notes that the law’s protections do not apply to farm activities that result in “damage to commercial agricultural products of another grower or neighboring property.”

That would seem to offer some recourse to the objecting neighbors. But as long as Uproot Meats prevents any contamination of the irrigation canal or neighboring farmland, the county probably has no grounds to deny the application. Uproot’s owners say they have installed barriers and planted vegetation, and the sandy loam soil provides filtration, a plan they say has been approved by the Department of Environmental Quality and the Talent Irrigation District.

If the neighbors want to stop a legal farm operation, they should work to change state law.

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