The Farmkeepers is the official blog of NC Farm Families. It is here that words will flow, our voice will be heard, a stand will be made, and the farm families of North Carolina will be protected. In these posts, we'll set the record straight. You'll see the faces of the families who feed us. Here, you'll receive all the updates and news. It is here that we will fight for farmers and be the keepers of the farm in NC. We hope you'll join us. Follow along on social media and by joining our email list.
 
Left Out
June 6, 2018

 

newspaper-154444_1280Emery Dalesio’s a respected reporter with the Associated Press, and he just wrote a story about the second nuisance lawsuit against Smithfield Foods.

He reported how Smithfield Foods’ lawyers didn’t want jurors to hear about Smithfield’s finances and its profits until after the jury has decided whether neighbors were harmed and should be compensated. Fair enough. That happened.

But Mr. Dalesio didn’t mention another omission: How the plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t want the jurors to hear that, five years ago, a group of lawyers went door-to-door recruiting clients by telling hog farmers’ neighbors, ‘We’ll bring the lawsuit, we’ll pay the bills, and if we win you could get part of the money.’

During the first nuisance trial the lawyers suing Smithfield pictured the plaintiffs as victims struggling to end years of torment – but no one ever mentioned they also had financial motive as well. Because the plaintiffs’ lawyers didn’t want it mentioned.

But isn’t the lawyer’s money and the plaintiffs’ hope of making money as much a part of the trial as Smithfield’s finances?

 


 
A Missing Fact
June 4, 2018

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In the first Smithfield nuisance trial no one ever mentioned one fact: How, four years ago, the lawyers leading the lawsuits against Smithfield Foods filed a copy of their contracts with their clients in a state court and how those contracts showed the lawyers would be paid 40% of the verdict, plus their expenses.

So, if the original verdict of over $50 million hadn’t been reduced by the judge, the plaintiffs’ lawyers would have received over $20 million.

Why does that fact matter?

During the first trial whenever someone, a witness, testified odor from the Kinlaw Farm was not a life-destroying nuisance to him, the plaintiffs’ lawyer would indicate his ten clients and ask, Who knows best whether odor was a nuisance to them – you or them?

And every witness answered, I can only speak for myself.

Not one witness answered: Your clients lived beside the Kinlaw farm for 14 years and didn’t complain once – until a lawyer knocked on their door and said, ‘We’ll sue the hog farmer. You sign here and join us. And if we win, you could make money.’ So I have to wonder whether these complaints are about making money?

The jurors never heard about those lawyers signing up clients. Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered. Maybe the jurors would still have seen the plaintiffs as victims. But shouldn’t the jury have heard both sides?


 
Lawsuits against Smithfield Foods are a dangerous threat to all North Carolina farmers
May 31, 2018

Dean Hilton

Letter from Dean Hilton, HD3 Farms of the Carolinas

Many people believe that a series of nuisance trials under way in the federal court in Raleigh affect only the named defendant, a division of Smithfield Foods.

They’re wrong.

All of agriculture is on trial – and the outcome of these lawsuits affects all of us across the state, especially in rural North Carolina.

These lawsuits affect every farm family who raises pigs, chicken, cattle or crops. They affect every employee who makes their living on a farm. They affect every local business that sells farm equipment, supplies, and fuel to the farmers in their community.

And, they affect our banks, our groceries, our restaurants, and our car dealerships. They affect our schools and museums, our arts programs and recreational programs – all of which depend on the deep tax base agriculture provides our communities.

Yes, these lawsuits are an attack on North Carolina agriculture and our rural communities.

Let’s not forget how I understand these lawsuits started – with out-of-state lawyers going door-to-door, promising big paydays to neighbors who were willing to sue the hog farm down the street.

Those first lawyers eventually were thrown off the case for what the court called “credible undisputed evidence of professional violations,” but the lawsuits moved forward anyway with new lawyers in the lead, also from out of state.

In the beginning, the lawsuits weren’t just against Smithfield. They were against family farmers, too. Airplanes and drones were flown over our farms, hoping to capture an incriminating photo or video that could be used against us in court. Those harassing tactics continue to this day, with drones flying and “spy” cameras posted near many farms.

Because it’s apparent that the lawyers saw Smithfield with the deepest pockets, individual farmers were eventually dropped from the lawsuits. Those out of state lawyers want to tell a tale to the jury: “We didn’t sue the nice farmer down the street, just the big, bad corporation that owns the hogs.”

But we are all on trial.

Indeed, from the start, these cases have been about one thing. Money.

Need proof? The plaintiffs are not suing for any changes to be made to any farm. They just seek money.

As farmers, we care deeply about the land we farm, the animals we raise, and the communities where we live. We strive every day to be good neighbors and good citizens.

At HD3 Farms of the Carolinas, we raise pigs, chicken and cattle on multiple farms in eastern North Carolina. We always try to follow the state’s regulations (and there are lots of regulations!) And even when there’s not a regulation, we try to do things the right way. I’m proud to say that I’ve never heard a complaint from one of our neighbors.

In my experience as a contract grower, Smithfield Foods tries to do things the right way, too. The company has partnered with environmental organizations, committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and invested in new technologies to capture methane gas that can be converted into renewable energy.

Smithfield has invested a lot of money into these projects, and into our farming communities in rural North Carolina. We should be thanking them – not suing them – for their impact on North Carolina agriculture and job creation for North Carolina.

North Carolina is a national leader in agriculture. Our farmers feed tens of millions of people across the country and around the world each year. We are doing it more efficiently than ever before, using fewer natural resources while producing more food.

With the world population expected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050, a robust agricultural industry has never been more important. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “Despite all of our accomplishments, we owe our existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains.”

We cannot afford to let these nuisance lawsuits derail everything that North Carolina farmers have built. I stand in support of Smithfield Foods, and our farm families across the great state of North Carolina.

 


 
A Stake in the Verdict
May 31, 2018

This week a lot of farmers are keeping their fingers crossed as the second nuisance trial against Smithfield Foods starts in Raleigh. They’re wondering, What could a second defeat mean for hog farming? And for eastern North Carolina?

The answer is: A lot.

Agriculture is a foundation of North Carolina’s economy, and hog and poultry farming are the backbone of North Carolina agriculture. Hog farming alone creates over 40,000 jobs. And that’s only part of the story: As a lady, who raises hogs on her farm, explained she buys parts and equipment at local stores, insurance from a local agency, supplies at a local hardware store, oil and gas at local service stations and cars or trucks from local automobile dealers. She also pays property taxes which, in turn, pay for schools. Her point was simple: It’s not just farmers who could be hurt by these lawsuits. It’s people in small towns across eastern North Carolina.

In the first nuisance trial it was easy for the plaintiffs’ lawyer to stand up and say ‘Super Soils’ would solve all his clients’ problems – he talked about if Super Soils as if they were a magic wand. It was also easy for him to say, Smithfield makes a billion dollars a year, and if it’d just spend $500 million to put Super Soils on all its hog farms these problems would go away.

But Super Soils isn’t a magic wand. And what happens to our economy if the cost of raising hogs in North Carolina goes up $500 million? Who gets hurt?

In this trial a lot of people, and not just farmers, have a stake in the verdict.


 
Smithfield Trial: The Rest of the Story
May 16, 2018

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After reading the transcript of the trial I thought, They were in a trap before the first witness spoke a word.

The roots of the lawsuit against Smithfield Foods run back over five years to when a pair of out-of-state lawyers, Charles Speer from Kansas City and Richard Middleton from Savannah, saw a way to make money by suing North Carolina hog farmers.

To file their lawsuits Speer and Middleton needed clients. So, with the help of anti-hog farming groups, lawyers from their firms knocked on doors of farmers’ neighbors, saying, ‘Sign here, we’ll file the lawsuit, we’ll pay the bills, and if we win you’ll get part of the money.’

It worked. They signed up hundreds of clients.

They then partnered with a North Carolina law firm, Wallace and Graham, and filed their lawsuits. But, not long after that, a state judge sent Speer and Middleton packing, adding he didn’t ever want to see them in his courtroom again. The judge handed the lawsuits (and the clients) to Wallace and Graham which then partnered with a law firm from Texas.

Earlier this year, before the first ‘nuisance’ trial started, the lead lawyer from Texas asked the judge to instruct Smithfield’s lawyers not to mention Speer and Middleton to the jurors. And the judge agreed. So, Smithfield couldn’t tell jurors about lawyers filing lawsuits to make money.

As soon as the trial started the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Michael Kaeske, began hammering Smithfield Foods, telling jurors Smithfield was a big corporation with a lot of money and if it had just spent $500 million it could have cured the problems with odor on hog farms across North Carolina. Why hadn’t Smithfield done that? The answer was simple: Greed. Michael Kaeske made Smithfield Foods into a villain.

And when the trial ended that was the picture the jury had: Smithfield was a greedy varmint and Michael Kaeske’s clients were long-suffering victims.

No juror ever heard the rest of the story. Because no lawyer could ask a plaintiff: You lived beside Billy Kinlaw’s hog farm for 18 years and never complained once about odor – until those lawyers from Missouri and Georgia knocked on your door and said you could make money if you joined their lawsuit. Was that a coincidence?

The jurors didn’t even know that the lawyers standing in front of them, suing Smithfield Foods, had asked the judge to keep that fact from them.

Often, at the end of a trial, a jury has to answer a straightforward question: Who’s the villain? Michael Kaeske, free to say pretty much whatever he wanted about Smithfield Foods, turned it into a villain. And Smithfield’s lawyers, with their hands tied, couldn’t tell the rest of the story.


 
Nuisance Lawsuits Affect More than Smithfield & Hog Farmers
May 2, 2018

 

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After reading how a jury in a federal courtroom in Raleigh awarded 10 people – who’d sued Smithfield Foods over one hog farm – $50 million, because the farm was a ‘nuisance,’ a puzzled farmer in a nearby county observed, I obey the laws. I comply with all the regulations. I’ve never had a violation. But I can still be sued for millions of dollars? How does that make sense?

And a lady, who raises hogs on her farm, raised a different question. In an email, she explained her hog farm employs two workers and also pays a truck driver. She buys parts and equipment from local stores. She buys insurance from a local agency, supplies at a local hardware store, and pays rent for land – in addition to her own land – to retired farmers. Her family eats at local restaurants, buys oil and gas from local service stations, and cars or trucks from local automobile dealers. And she pays property taxes which, in turn, pay for schools.

Her point? It’s not just hog farmers who stand to be hurt by that verdict in Raleigh. It’s people in communities and small towns across North Carolina.

Right now, that $50 million-dollar verdict involving one farm is being appealed. But a second lawsuit filed by the lawyers, about another farm, begins May 29th. And there’re eight more lawsuits on the docket in federal court after those two. And a lot of people – from truck drivers to hardware store owners to insurance agents – who’ve never raised a hog have a stake in the outcome.

Hog farming is one of the pillars of North Carolina’s economy. Let’s hope wiser heads – and justice – prevail in the Court of Appeals.

 


 
Questions About the Nuisance Lawsuit
May 1, 2018

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There’re a lot of people shaking their heads, worried about a jury verdict in Raleigh. Ten neighbors filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging the hog farm – one hog farm – near them was a nuisance. And a jury awarded them $50 million. $5 million each. So, now, across eastern North Carolina people are wondering, How many farmers could survive a verdict of $100,000 or $500,000 – much less $50 million? They’d go bankrupt.

Now granted, this verdict wasn’t against the farmer who owned the farm. It was against Smithfield Foods. But if a Raleigh jury will award 10 plaintiffs $5 million each, could lawyers begin suing individual farmers next?

Granted too, the $50 million verdict may be reduced. Because it violates the state law that limits punitive damages in these types of lawsuits. In fact, the Raleigh jury awarded fifteen times more than the state limit. But with millions of dollars at stake could the lawyers start looking for a way around the limit?

It’s also true that, last year, the state passed another law that protects farmers from lawyers who bring these types of lawsuits. That law didn’t affect this case – and it won’t affect the other 9 cases the same lawyers have brought – because they were filed before the new law was passed. But, theoretically, the new law would protect farmers in the future from verdicts like this. But could the lawyers start looking for a way around that law too?

The next trial – the second of the 10 original cases – starts on May 29th. The lawyers brought this case first because it was their best case. So history may not repeat itself. Next time the lawyers suing Smithfield Foods may lose.  But what if there are more verdicts like this one? How many hog farmers could be put out of business? And what would that do to North Carolina’s economy?

In North Carolina, the foundation of hog farming is a partnership between local farmers and companies like Smithfield Foods. A drought that hurts one, hurts the other. And a $50 million-dollar verdict that hurts one, hurts both. So a lot of farmers are wondering whether a lawyer from Texas, in one trial in a federal courtroom in Raleigh, turned their lives upside down. And they’re asking themselves, How does this end?

The answer to that question matters to the lives of thousands of farmers. And the wrong answer could fracture a pillar of North Carolina’s economy. But getting the answers may take a while. The next trial begins on May 29th.


 
Smithfield Foods to Appeal Nuisance Lawsuit Verdict
April 27, 2018

A statement was released by Smithfield Foods regarding the recent verdict of the nuisance lawsuits. It is as follows:

Smithfield Foods Statement Regarding North Carolina Verdict

We are extremely disappointed by the verdict. We will appeal to the Fourth Circuit, and we are confident we will prevail. We believe the outcome would have been different if the court had allowed the jury to (1) visit the plaintiffs’ properties and the Kinlaw farm and (2) hear additional vital evidence, especially the results of our expert’s odor-monitoring tests.

These lawsuits are an outrageous attack on animal agriculture, rural North Carolina and thousands of independent family farmers who own and operate contract farms. These farmers are apparently not safe from attack even if they fully comply with all federal, state and local laws and regulations. The lawsuits are a serious threat to a major industry, to North Carolina’s entire economy and to the jobs and livelihoods of tens of thousands of North Carolinians.

From the beginning, the lawsuits have been nothing more than a money grab by a big litigation machine. Plaintiffs’ original lawyers promised potential plaintiffs a big payday. Those lawyers were condemned by a North Carolina state court for unethical practices. Plaintiffs’ counsel at trial relied heavily on anti-agriculture, anti-corporate rhetoric rather than the real facts in the case. These practices are abuses of our legal system, and we will continue to fight them.

—Statement by Keira Lombardo, Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs, Smithfield Foods, Inc.

 

 


 
Nuisance Lawsuits Against Hog Farms Begin: Opening Arguments Recap
April 5, 2018

The first in a series of nuisance lawsuits against Murphy-Brown went to court this week in Raleigh. The opening arguments provided an outline of each side’s case. Here’s a recap:

 Attorneys for the plaintiffs made an emotional appeal in their opening argument, portraying their clients as sympathetic victims who suffer from unbearable odor created by the nearby hog farm. Attorneys explained how North Carolina hog farming has changed since the 1980s, with a move toward large commercial farms that prevent neighbors from enjoying their property. They placed the blame squarely on Murphy-Brown, saying they control the operations of local growers and are well aware of the nuisances they create.

 At times, the rhetoric was over the top. “We can’t bring hog odor into the courtroom. I wish we could. But we’d never get it out. It’s that bad.”

 The defense took a more reasoned, scientific approach and reminded jurors that this case is about the conditions at a single farm: Kinlaw Farm in Bladen County. It is not about what happened in the ‘80s or ‘90s and is not about hog farms in general. The attorneys emphasized that the Kinlaw Farm has never had any issues — no complaints, no violations, no concerns raised. They stressed that the farmer enjoyed good relationships with his neighbors until out-of-state lawyers showed up.

 The attorneys also highlighted the growth that has occurred around the Kinlaw Farm since it began operations, including the construction of a world-class horse farm, a vacation property popular with those who love the outdoors, and several new houses where young families now live. “Actions speak volumes,” the attorney told jurors.


 
Rolling Stone Reports on NC Hog Farms, Funded by Anti-Hog Farming Organization
March 30, 2018

The Rolling Stone article “Why is China Treating North Carolina like the Developing World?” is filled with unchecked facts, false claims, and exaggerated descriptions. After trudging through inaccuracy after inaccuracy, you come to the final line which says:

This story was published in partnership with the UC Berkeley-11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship.

What does that mean? Upon some research, we found the entire story was funded by a foundation with an agenda that focuses on what they call “ending industrialized animal agriculture.”

This raises a serious question: can journalism be bought?

The UC-Berkley 11th Hour Food and Farming Journalism Fellowship is supported by a grant from the Schmidt Family Foundation.

The program offers ten $10,000 fellowships to journalists with the stipulation that they “report ambitious long form print” on a subject in the food system. Fellows must also attend a workshop in June and December where editors will help them refine and shape their stories.

Workshops. Editors. All funded by an organization that’s against modern agriculture. An organization that gives grants to the likes of EWG who with Waterkeeper Alliance published “Exposing Fields of Filth: Landmark Report Maps Feces-Laden Hog and Chicken Operations in North Carolina.”

What story was published in partnership with this fellowship? The Rolling Stone piece.

Needless to say, the Rolling Stone article had an agenda. The agenda was paid for by an organization with a goal to end modern pig farming.

You expect journalists to check the facts. You expect them to present the full story. You expect them to follow some sort of code of ethics. Apparently, the bar is much too high for Rolling Stone.

Can journalism be bought? In this case, it would seem so.


 

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