Company withdraws plan for 10,000 hogs northeast of KC after local opposition, lawsuit

Jonathan Shorman, Kevin Hardy
·3 min read

A Missouri company has abandoned plans to build a giant farm to house more than 10,000 hogs northeast of Kansas City, a proposal that drew strong opposition and a lawsuit from prospective neighbors.

United Hog withdrew its permit application for the site in Livingston County last week, according to emails obtained by The Star.

In an April 7 email to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Jeff Browning, an agriculture engineer who has worked on the project, informed the agency that United Hog “has decided not to construct” the hog farm.

The decision is a victory for opponents, who expressed concerns about smell and pollution. But United Hog also withdrew a previous application several months ago, only to file a new one, raising the possibility the company may try again.

Andrew Geiser, who runs a family farm near the proposed concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, said neighbors who have been fighting the giant hog farm are hopeful.

“This isn’t the first time they’ve pulled the application,” he said. “So that’s why I say we’re cautiously optimistic.”

Browning, who works for Allied Engineering Associates, told The Star he doesn’t anticipate United Hog trying again to build on the site.

The proposed site would have been massive. United Hog’s plan called for three barns, one nearly the length of three football fields. Collectively, the structures would span more than 253,000 square feet, nearly twice the size of the average Costco warehouse. They would have accommodated more than 10,000 breeding sows, boars and piglets and would have included a 4,000-square-foot building to compost dead animals.

But the site had been caught up in litigation over an emergency rule change DNR enacted that critics said was aimed at smoothing the way for a permit.

DNR changed how it defines groundwater near CAFOs to exclude shallow, or “perched,” groundwater. Officials had said the reference was inadvertently deleted during a push to cut red tape under Gov. Eric Greitens and that the proposed change was simply a restoration of the earlier definition.

But CAFO opponents, represented by St. Louis environmental attorney Stephen Jeffery, accused the agency of trying to clear the way for United Hog because opponents said they found shallow groundwater near the site. Jeffery said a judge held a hearing last week but hasn’t issued a decision yet.

United Hog is owned by Robert Zeysing, who has farmed for decades in nearby Marshall, Mo. He could not be reached for comment. An employee of Zeysing’s said United Hog would not comment on the application.

When United Hog previously withdrew its first application, it replaced it with an application for an even larger hog operation. But the company has not told the state anything about its future plans in Livingston County, said Heather Peters, who works in DNR’s water protection program.

“This time I am not aware of that. But that doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen,” she said. “They did not provide any explanation of what their intent is at that facility.”

Whether the Livingston County project is permanently dead or not, Geiser said the fight will go on.

In 2019, Gov. Mike Parson signed into law Senate Bill 391, which made it more difficult for local governments to block CAFOS. Geiser and others want to see a more fundamental change in state policy that has become friendlier toward industrial agriculture in recent years.

“The fight is bigger,” Geiser said. “It goes back to local control.”