STERLING – A longtime farmer, who at one point was grazing 2,400 hogs in his field just north of a restaurant and other East Lincolnway businesses, is not violating state regulations, a judge ruled, dismissing a Department of Agriculture complaint against his operation.
The Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Environmental Programs filed two complaints against Norm Koster, 63, of Dixon.
In its view, Koster was running a livestock management, or feeding facility, or a livestock waste facility, and did not provide notification of intent to construct either, or to follow construction and set-back rules, as required by the state Livestock Management Facilities Act. Such a violation carries a fine of up to $1,000.
Click here to read the judge's ruling.
Among other things, the statute defines a feeding operation as a facility where animals are confined and fed for 45 days or more in a 12-month period.
Koster maintained that PEEP Inc., his organic hog, chicken and egg business, is not a feeding operation, it’s a pasture operation, which is exempt from the act. That’s because he regularly moved the hogs from one parcel to another across all 120 acres, allowing them to forage chemical-free and, in turn, fertilize the land.
The department’s position was the entire acreage was one facility from which the hogs were not moved in the time specified.
Administrative Law Judge Jack L. Price, who presided over a hearing on the matter March 5 in Springfield, agreed with Koster, and dismissed the two complaints on June 2.
“I find that, so long as the swine are moved to new ground every 44 days or less, and are not returned to the same ground for at least 366 days, [Koster’s] operation is not an animal feeding operation and does not fall under the restrictions of the Livestock Management Facilities Act,” Price said in his ruling.
No evidence on the waste management facility complaint was offered, and so it, too, was dismissed.
It has not been determined if the state will pursue the matter further.
“The department is still reviewing the judge’s decision and potential options the department may have under Illinois Administrative Code,” Jeff Squibb, a Department of Agriculture spokesman, said Thursday.
Koster’s 120-acre parcel, which he’s owned for more than 3 decades, abuts city limits on Polo Road, near Applebee’s, Kelly’s Market and Mobil and Carmike Sauk Valley 8 Cinema.
In the past, Koster has raised corn and soybeans on the land, but his last crop was a pig-pleasing mixture of wheat, clover and alfalfa. This is the first year he ran hogs on the land; he moved baby pigs there in July and, in April, removed those that had not sold in order to make way for corn planting. He also had some egg-laying chickens on site.
While the pigs were in the field, many people called the city and the Whiteside County Health Department to complain about the odor, the dust, and their proximity to the city. City officials, who have no jurisdiction over ag matters or over the land, which is not in city limits, forwarded residents’ concerns to the ag department, which filed the complaint.
Koster said Thursday that he might put more hogs on the site next year, although ideally, he would have a 3-year rotation of corn, then soybeans, then the wheat-clover-alfalfa mixture and more animals.
His desire is to raise and sell pigs, chickens and eggs that are chemical-free, for which demand is growing, he said.
It’s really just old-school farming, Koster said.
“We’re doing something different, but we doing it the way they used to do it all the time. I think it’s better,” for the land, and for the people buying his eggs and pork.
About PEEP Inc.
PEEP Inc. farms, based in Dixon, raises pigs on commercial fertilizer-free pastures. They are free of antibiotics and chemicals, and are fed no genetically modified vegetables, owner Norm Koster says on his website.
"The farming is done with sustainability which means nurturing our land, neighbors and animals. This allows us to provide healthy and natural products to our Midwest neighbors," the website reads.
Go to www.peep-pasture-raised-pork.com or call 815-677-0767 for more information on Koster's company, and his pork-raising philosophy.