Where are CAFOs?
One method of determining the density of animal feeding operations (AFOs) across the United States is to use the livestock inventory maps provided by the National Agriculture Statistics Service. NASS maps provide information on the density of livestock production in an area. While it is tempting to assume that the frequency of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) is related to the total inventory of animals raised in an area, and therefore areas of high livestock inventory would have a greater concentration of CAFOs, that assumption may be misleading.
Wisconsin, a state with a high number of dairy farms and inventory of dairy cows, has over 14,000 dairy farms and a state inventory of over 1.2 million milk cows. Conversely Idaho has only 811 dairy farms with a state inventory of just over 500,000 milk cows. But Wisconsin has only 78 diaries with 1,000 or more milk cows while Idaho has 125. Obviously a greater percentage of Idaho’s dairy cattle are housed on larger farms than in Wisconsin.
There are similar examples in other species. Iowa ranks fourth in the United States in cattle on feed inventory behind Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas. Iowa is also well known for a large number of smaller feedlots. 53% of the state’s inventory is on farms with 100 to 999 head while 39% of the cattle on feed are on farms with over 1,000 head, the EPA’s established size threshold for large CAFO designation. Only 5% of the Iowa’s cattle feedlots have inventories over 1,000 head, but because Iowa has over 7,000 feedlots the state has more beef CAFOs than the three other states with larger cattle on feed inventories. In Texas, Nebraska, and Kansas 97%, 83% and 93%, respectively, of each state’s cattle on feed inventory is on farms with over 1,000 head. These three states may have fewer CAFOs but they are larger than the CAFOs in Iowa.
Determining the location of CAFOs is also challenged by discrepancies between government agencies. EPA and its partner state departments determine CAFO status by size and by history of discharge into waters of the state (see What is a CAFO?). NASS reporting groups are based on past reporting practices and do not follow the CAFO guidelines of EPA. Perhaps the most applicable information is gained by recognizing the concentration of AFOs in a region with less concern with CAFO and non-CAFO status.