A Missouri couple have been awarded $1.1 million in a lawsuit settlement because of the stench from a nearby hog farm. The lawsuit, which was finalized last week in Cedar County Circuit Court, was filed by Ed and Ruth McEowen against Doug Mullings, who owned the hog barns; the Missouri Farmers Association, which supplied the hogs; North View Swine Co.; Tri-County Swine; and an insurer, the Missouri Farm Bureau.

The farm has 7,500 hogs in barns that were erected less than 1,000 feet from the McEowen’s home several years ago, in violation of Missouri Department of Natural Resources regulations. The McEowens have lived on their 40-acre farm for 30 years and built the house and a workshop by hand.

According to the lawsuit, Mullings built one of six barns without a construction permit, a violation of Missouri Department of Natural Resources regulations. The farm operated six years without an operating permit from DNR.

Hog waste also fouled a creek that runs through the McEowens’ property, the lawsuit said. The settlement involves only odors up to the date of the settlement. But the McEowens said they were ready to file another nuisance action if the hog operation continued to harm their quality of life.

The McEowens’ attorney, Charlie Speer, told the Associated Press that this is only one of about 350 cases involving farms and odors in Missouri. Speers said the McEowen case “sets the bar for future settlements.”

Now you can read into Speer’s quote what you want. He’s either issuing a warning to other odor-producing farms that they face stiff financial penalties if they persist, or he’s salivating at the prospect of a share of a string of potential seven-figure settlements. My guess is that it’s both.

More important to America is how we work to resolve this dispute between livestock producers and those who inadvertently find themselves harmed by such operations. Certainly, no one would want to live down wind from a large-scale livestock facility, and where laws and ordinances are ignored, the guilty should suffer the consequences.

But not all “factory-farmers” are greedy, heartless, law-breakers as some would have you believe. Indeed, Humane Society of the United States president Wayne Pacelle used the McEowen settlement this week to further his group’s agenda. On his blog, Pacelle wrote:

“Factory farming interests attempt to argue that they represent rural people and rural values and that animal protection advocates, environmentalists, and others do not understand their way of life. They could not be more wrong. It is the factory farming industry that is actually a threat to rural communities — swallowing up small farms, polluting the water and air, and driving down property values. Rural people should be in the forefront of the movement against factory farms, and the Missouri case shows us that, increasingly, they are.”

Pacelle’s assumption is that “factory farms” are “swallowing up small farms.” Small farms, or Pacelle’s idyllic view of a family farm, are no longer economically viable. Indeed, it is not the rise of the “factory farm” that has caused the decline of the family farm, but rather the decline of the family farm has given rise to large-scale, specialized operations.

Oh, how I wish it wasn’t so. I grew up in a time when 100 cows and 25 sows could support a rural family. Today, the annual income from those animals wouldn’t pay for one year of college tuition for one of your children. It’s a harsh reality that farms must be larger to survive.

I know, there are hundreds of stories about successful small farmers who are selling grass-fed beef and free-range chickens to an upscale, urban clientele who are standing in line to pay triple the price. But that’s not a business model that can work for every farmer from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia to the San Joaquin Valley in California.

What Pacelle doesn’t comprehend is that the majority of the evil “factory farmers” are really family farmers whose operations have just grown beyond the size of their grandparents’ farms. And for the most part, they don’t just “represent rural people and rural values”; they are rural people and rural values. And most are “animal protection advocates” and “environmentalists,” though they might bristle at the idea if anyone dared call them that — mostly because of activists like Pacelle who have framed the context of those labels to suit their misguided agenda.

Do Pacelle and his legions understand our way of life? No. And, unfortunately, they cannot fully comprehend rural life unless they were raised into it.

Oh, they can pull on a pair of boots and spend a few weeks out on a farm, but it’s not the same.

Even my own children, raised — unfortunately — in a neighborhood with more people than my home county, don’t fully comprehend the relaxation their father gets from a weekend of fixing fence, spraying weeds or just visiting with neighbors I haven’t seen for a while.

None of which means I support polluting the streams and fouling the air with livestock waste. But I do support the right of people to eat and the right of businesses to supply their food. — Greg Henderson, Drovers editor.