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Josh Johnson stands in front of his father’s nursery barn Lon Tonneson
STILL TRYING: Josh Johnson, standing in front of his father’s nursery barn, hopes to build a hog finishing barn.

Permit fights keep contract hog finishing out of reach

Permit complications are preventing two Yankton County, S.D., families from raising pigs.

Two families in Yankton County, S.D., know how difficult it can be to get building permits for hog barns.

Josh and Deanna Johnson of Volin, S.D., have been interested in getting into the hog business for years. Josh has worked in several finishing barns and his father’s nursery barn, in addition to farming crop farming and working several season off-farm jobs. Deanna works for the South Dakota Highway Patrol.

Being able to raise hogs would increase their farm income and reduce the need for Josh to juggle so many other jobs. Also, their daughter currently in high school is interested in raising pigs.

When Josh’s father applied to build a nursery barn, he was named in a lawsuit brought by a citizen’s group that opposed the county’s action. It argued that the county should have required a conditional use permit for the barn that spelled out how the barns were going to be managed rather than just a building permit. The suit dragged on for about a year and was eventually dismissed.

Josh and Deanna received a permit to build a finishing barn in 2018. They lined up their financing and were ready to build in the spring and summer, but the weather prevented them from doing dirt work. Recently, the county planning and zoning committee recommended to the commission that Johnson’s permit be rescinded because significant construction hadn’t started within the period of time required by the permit.

Several other farmers in the same situation with their barns received notices, too. Now, the Johnson’s project is on hold until the commission decides whether to reissue the permit or require them to go through the process again.

“It’s frustrating and discouraging,” Josh says. “We recognize the opportunity that is out there to raise pigs, but we haven’t been able to participate.”

Why don’t you move?

Jay and LeAnne Cutts of Mission Hill, S.D., share the Johnsons’ sentiments.

They have one barn and have permits from Yankton County to erect three more. They have three sons, ages 16-21, who may want to farm with them. They hoped the barns would give their sons the chance work full time on the farm. But the Cutts say they keep running up against obstacles created by the county planning zoning committee and the county commission.

People have asked the Cutts why they don’t just move to or build barns in a county that wants hogs development. “But our land is zoned agricultural,” Jay says. "Our barns meet the zoning and environmental requirements. Why do we have to move? Our family has been on this land for more than 135 years and all we want to do is raise pigs in a proven efficient, safe and environmentally sound manner.”

Lon TonnesonJay and LeAnn Cutts hold a picture of their three sons

CREATING JOBS: Jay and LeAnn Cutts, who are trying to expand their farm by contract finishing hogs, hold a picture of their three sons who would like to one-day farm with them.

The Johnsons, the Cutts and other producers have formed an ag promotion and advocacy organization in Yankton County called Families Feeding Families — Agvocacy. The group has held several events and had exhibits at community festivals. Its mission is to “advocate and support today's farmers and to educate the community on today's farming practices with the goal of sustainability of agriculture for future generations.”

Learn more at familiesfeedingfamilies-agvocacy.com or visit the group’s Facebook page.

“We are trying to tell ag’s story,” LeAnne says.

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