Recently, an environmental group sent out a press release about taking a group of people (mostly interns) on an aerial surveillance of Eastern North Carolina to “document and expose” animal feeding operations. So I was curious to see what you can see from the sky. Luckily, I happened to know a Duplin County pig farmer from Duplin County who has a pilot’s license. He quickly offered to take me up in the sky when I told him what I wanted to see. So here’s what I learned from my flight with Chad:

1. It’s awesome out here. From the air – even on a day with low cloud cover – you really get a sense for the beauty of Eastern North Carolina. To hear the opposition talk, people in Eastern North Carolina are living in a giant cesspool. (I know this isn’t true. I’ve driven all over ENC and visited dozens of pig farms. But I’ve heard how extremists describe living near hog farms in the courtroom, in public hearings, documentaries and in media interviews. They don’t paint a pretty picture.) From the air, you really get a sense of how clean and beautiful this area is. Many a pig farmer has told me that they live in God’s country. From the air, I can see why they feel this way. Flying over neighborhoods, you can tell that folks enjoy their backyards. Pools, trampolines, four wheelers, patio furniture and other evidence of outdoor activities are everywhere.2. You don’t fly far in Eastern North Carolina without coming across long barns. Some of them are pig farms, but a lot of them house poultry. When viewing from the air, hog houses are much shorter, and they are always adjacent to a lagoon. The grain bins are on the end of the building and there’s a loading ramp. Poultry barns are long are often clustered in groups of eight or 10. The grain bins are in the center of the barns and the ends of the building have rollup doors. No matter the type of farm, from the air, you can tell that they are well maintained and clean.

3. The majority of hog farms are isolated and tucked away. This helps maintain biosecurity, and tree buffers are industry best practices. They aren’t hiding. They were just built on property out of the way. In many cases, you can see where neighborhoods are built up right to the tree buffer. Interestingly, there are rules against siting a hog farm and lagoon within a certain distance from a home, but there are no rules to prevent a residence from being built within that same buffer. The majority of hog farms are relatively small, Yes, we have some large farms, but they are the exception, not the rule. Most of them are just a few small hog houses on a small lagoon and they dot the landscape.

4. Hog farms aren’t the only ones who use lagoons and/or a spray field system. We saw municipal waste treatment facilities and manufacturing facilities that also used this technology. And yes, it is a technology that utilizes bacteria to break down waste either through aerobic or anaerobic means. It is a treatment type recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency. It’s not outdated, as some argue. It creates a valuable nutrient that can be used on crops.

5. For all the fuel and carbon footprint of their flights in their fight against CAFOs, the environmentalists must be disappointed when they fly. I daresay that they do more environmental damage than what they find. Which goes back to the fact that if you trace the money backing these groups, they aren’t really environmental groups, but anti-animal agriculture groups with a vegan agenda that are using the environment to attack the meat industry.


– Jen Kendrick, director of communications and outreach, NC Pork Council