Imagine investing $10 million building a business detailing cars and trucks. To protect your investment, you double-check all the rules that apply and make sure you have the necessary permits. You hire the best engineers and construction crews available to build your business with the most up-to-date technology.
You work closely with building inspectors to make sure you comply with the rules. You train trusted people to help run the business, and make sure it’s not a burden for neighboring businesses in the area. As construction is almost complete, the very government that issued you the permits and inspected the construction forces you to stop. All because you added oil change services to your detailing business to make it more profitable. This was all within the rules of your permits by the way, but now you can’t finish your business.
This scenario is happening right here in Millard county. The only difference is that instead of an auto detailing shop, it’s a family farm with pigs.
A&J Swine is a family-owned farm near Flowell, owned by Andrade and Jason Christensen and their families. Both brothers grew up in Flowell as the third generation on their family’s 360-acre farm. Because of the economics facing many small family farms, the brothers left the farm and pursued careers that would support their families. Both wished that someday they could return to the farm and community they loved.
Andrade & Alena Christensen Family Jason & Jennifer Christensen Family
Since 2017, the families have gone through the process of changing zoning and obtaining the conditional use permit to build a barn to raise hogs. This new farming business would provide a stable income for these families and support many other jobs in the community.
After Millard County granted the conditional use permit for the barn and related infrastructure, the family worked with the Utah Department of Water Quality to get all the state permits and design a facility that would exceed all standards to protect local water and air quality.
With all permits approved from the county, the Christensens built their farm, living on savings to make their dream a reality. But it recently turned into a nightmare.
With construction 95% completed and a contract finalized with Smithfield Foods to provide the pigs in the next 30 days, Millard County issued a ‘cease and desist’ order – stopping the project in its tracks.
Why you ask? The county claims the Christensens violated the conditional use permit – the same permit the county has signed off on multiple times throughout construction. Had they filled the building with too many animals? No. Were there problems with the design of the barn? No. The reason was that they were planning to house breeding sows (mother pigs) rather than finishing hogs. This was a change, similar to adding additional services for an autobody business, but it was a change that Millard County had been made aware of and approved months ago when they issued building permits for sow barns. The county ordinance doesn’t distinguish or describe any special rules for pigs, whether they be sows or finishing hogs, it simply lists hogs. County officials have told the Christensens for months that to them, “a hog is a hog.”
The family is now left wondering how they’re going to make payments on the nearly finished hog barn. Will they lose it all?
The decisions of Millard County are costing these families thousands of dollars per day, with these amounts increasing dramatically as time goes on, for doing what the county said they could do – in writing. Attorneys have been hired by both sides and the taxpayers of Millard County stand liable to pay the bill. This is not happening to some large, faceless corporation; this is happening to real people trying to pay real bills and support real families right here in Millard County. Sadly, one of the largest agricultural counties in Utah seems to be launching an all-out attack on animal agriculture.
What does the future hold for Millard County? According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Millard County led the state – unfortunately – with the largest decrease in local GDP (-6.9%), at a time when the state of Utah as a whole increased 3.7%. This is not a message Millard County should be sending to people looking to invest and create jobs. This is not how Millard County should be treating hard-working families like the Christensens. I encourage you to reach out to the Millard County commissioners and urge them to rescind their order against the Christensens and to stop killing local businesses.
Jared Buhler is the president of the Millard County Farm Bureau. This op-ed was originally submitted to the Millard County Chronicle-Progress.