POTOMAC – Maris Huls grew up in the livestock business, but she has questions about a beef cattle operation that is set to be built near her property in Middlefork Township.
"I think it's going to devalue my property," Huls said. "I agree that agriculture and the beef industry has taken a hit, but I think there needs to be some questions (answered)."
About 60 local residents and area leaders turned out to hear more about the operation at a meeting Sunday afternoon. Champaign grain farmer Robert Wood, a principal partner with Central Illinois Feeders LLC, came to answer their questions.
Central Illinois Feeders plans put a beef cattle operation on 94 acres northwest of Armstrong and west of Illinois 49. The operation will occupy three acres and house a total of 2,400 heads of cattle in two confinement barns. The remaining land will be farmed.
Each barn will have a roof that shelters the animals and manure from the weather. The buildings will contain dry bedding that will start a compost process when mixed with the manure. The compost will be used as a fertilizer for grain farming.
The cattle will not be in open lots and there will be no manure storage lagoon. The operation will use wet distilled grain from ethanol plants that are slated to be built in the East Central Illinois area.
Vermilion County has no zoning oversight in the area, and the project needs permission from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture.
A handful of residents raised concerns about the operation's economic and environmental impact, traffic increase and pest control. A few were worried about property values. Resident Anne Burton asked if Wood would expand the operation.
Wood indicated that, right now, it would be too costly to expand beyond the planned 2,400 cattle.
Most of the questions came from the operation's new neighbors, who were concerned about the smell.
The operation is at least 3,000 feet from the nearest resident. The barns are also built to minimize the smell, Wood said.
"The odor emission factor should be very good at those distances," Wood said.
Burton and her husband, David, said later that they have not made up their minds to support or oppose Wood's plans.
"We are fact-finding at this time," Burton said.
Local farmer Bob Beck said the state agencies' stringent rules on the operation should minimize the concerns, such as environmental impacts and odor annoyance.
"I farm, I raise cattle," he said. "I think it's a great deal. I honestly can't see a bad side to this. It's another source of fertilizer for us."
Vermilion County Board member John Alexander facilitated the nearly two-hour meeting and was among several board members who attended, including board chair Jim "Mouse" McMahon. State Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, and state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, also attended.
Nic Anderson, of the Illinois Livestock Development Group, said that the state needs younger cattle producers.
There was $70 million in new construction for 350,000 pig spaces built in the state last year, Anderson said. But there was only between $1.2 million and $1.5 million in new construction for 30,000 new cattle spaces built last year, he said.