Indiana lawmakers chose to hold off on a bill that would limit local governments' control over large livestock farms Monday and instead replaced it with a proposal for further research on how existing local ordinances impact Indiana farms.
Senate Agricultural Committee members unanimously passed the proposal, which will allow Purdue University's College of Agriculture to study the current laws and restrictions in all 92 counties and report the findings back to lawmakers by Nov. 1.
The bill's original version would have stopped counties and other local governments from adopting any rules more stringent than current state laws on building livestock structures in areas zoned for agricultural use.
Committee Chairwoman Jean Leising, R-Oldenburg, said she sponsored the bill after learning that various Indiana counties had sought moratoriums on large farms. After hearing dozens of testimonies in support and against the bill, Leising said she was unable to determine how many counties had actually imposed such restrictions and that more research is necessary.
"I think this is really the right approach," she said.
The issue has sparked a heated debate over the rights of farmers versus homeowners.
Opponents of the original bill said it was a power grab on behalf of the state's farm lobby, and would have prevented local government from regulating concentrated animal-feeding operations, or CAFOs, that house thousands of animals and produce millions of gallons of manure.
In earlier hearings, environmentalists said CAFOs built near residential areas pose a significant threat to water and air quality and local oversight is a necessary precaution.
Supporters believe the current ordinances on large livestock farms are too strict, and many farmers are deterred by stringent county rules to expand or improve their facilities.
Since Indiana's agriculture industry adds about $25 billion to the state's economy, Leising said she hopes the issue can be resolved soon. In the meantime, the bill has prompted some county officials to reevaluate their current ordinances and make sure they're not blocking industry growth.
"It's created conversation, which I think is good for the future on animal agriculture and Indiana," she said.
The bill will now go to the full Senate for consideration.