At Iowa CCI, we are organizing for a better food & farm system — one that works for family farmers, workers, eaters and the environment. The factory farm industry exploits communities, pollutes our natural resources, and negatively impacts our health and well-being, all for the sake of increasing profits. 

While the Master Matrix — the permitting application for large factory farms — is broken and is no substitute for local control, this is one of the tools in our organizing toolkit that allows counties and citizens to weigh in with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) on factory farm constructions in their communities to stop and slow the expansion of factory farms. When a community comes together and utilizes the Master Matrix, in combination with a grassroots base building and community organizing strategy, we can fight back and stop more factory farms from building in our communities. 

Without passing this resolution, there is virtually no way for the county to provide input or fight to protect their community, and the DNR approves nearly every factory farm application that comes across their desk. That’s why it’s important that all Iowa county boards of supervisors pass the master matrix every year. 

Counties that adopt the master matrix resolution can provide input to the DNR and the factory farm applicant on site selection, the proposed structures, and the facility management. These counties review the factory farm application and the master matrix, consider public input, and make a recommendation to the DNR whether the application should be approved or denied.

To adopt the master matrix resolution — officially referred to at the DNR as the Construction Evaluation Resolution — county supervisors must meet in January every year to vote to pass the resolution and then they must submit that resolution, via mail or email, to Kelli Book at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) by January 31. 

To view a sample master matrix resolution, click here.


What is the Master Matrix?

The Master Matrix was passed by legislators, with the industry’s influence, in 2002. It’s a scoring system for factory farm applicants to evaluate whether or not they should be allowed to build, and looks at separation distances, along with air, water, and community impacts. 

The Master Matrix measures factors such as:

  • How close the factory farm is to the nearest resident, hospital, nursing home, childcare facility, public water source or private well
  • If the facility plans to use composting, landscaping, filters to reduce odors, etc.
  • If the applicant or any interested parties have a history of violations
  • If the facility has demonstrated community support or will provide any economic value to the community
  • If there is an emergency action plan, worker safety and protection plan, or closure plan 

Factory farm applicants fill out the Master Matrix themselves, picking which questions they answer because  they aren’t required to fill out all of the questions, and they only need a 50% score to pass (440 out of 880 points) — an “F” by most standards.

Communities can look at these Master Matrix applications to evaluate the grade applicants give themselves and find where applicants have omitted pertinent information, fudged the numbers or flat out lied — all problems that Iowa CCI members have found in previous factory farm applications. When we find these mistakes, communities can use this information to demand the county board of supervisors recommend the application for denial.

Click here to see what the master matrix scoring looks like. 

Without the county board of supervisors passing the Master Matrix resolution each January, counties would not be able to utilize the Master Matrix and provide input in the factory farm application process. Last year, 89 Iowa counties (shown in red in the map below) passed the master matrix resolution.


How does the Master Matrix fit into the factory farm permitting process?

In order to build, factory farms must apply for a construction permit from the Iowa DNR. The factory farm owner will submit paperwork – including the Master Matrix, Manure Management Plan, and construction permit application – to both the county auditor and DNR.

Once the the application is received, the county must follow these steps:

  1. Review the application. Once the factory farm application is submitted to the Iowa DNR, the DNR will send the county a formal instruction notice about next steps. The county should immediately start reviewing the application because from this point on, the county has 30 days to submit a recommendation to approve or deny the application.
  2. Notify the public. The county must publish a public notice in the paper notifying the public that a factory farm application has come in within 14 days. The notice will include the applicant’s name, township where the factory farm is being proposed, the type of factory farm it is, the animal unity capacity, and information on how the public can assess and review the application. The county must keep a copy of the construction permit application on file for the public, including the manure management plan and the master matrix.
  3. Review the master matrix. The county will need to review the applicant’s responses and supporting documents for the Master Matrix to determine if the points the applicant claimed are accurate and acceptable.
  4. Hold a public hearing. Although not required, the county can, and should, hold a public hearing to collect written and verbal comments from community residents. This is the only opportunity that residents will get to voice any concerns they have.
  5. Make a recommendation. After the county reviews the application and holds a public hearing (if they chose to do so), the county will make a recommendation to the DNR on if the factory farm application should be approved or denied. If the county finds any discrepancies in the application or master matrix, that should be included in their recommendation as the DNR can, and will, take off points based on the counties response. It is a common misconception that the county can be sued if they recommend the factory farm be denied, but this is not true. The county has every right to make a recommendation for or against the factory farm based on their review of the application and community input.
  6. Submit documents to the DNR. The county must submit the following documents to the DNR field officer via mail within 30 days of receiving the DNR’s instruction notice:
    1. The written county recommendation approving or denying the factory farm application
    2. The boards scoring of the master matrix, along with documentation and justification if points are denied
    3. Proof that the county notified the public
    4. Any other relevant documents that the county thinks is necessary, like public comments
  7. Wait for DNR’s response. Once all materials are received, the DNR will review the factory farm application and will make a final decision within 30 days. If the DNR approves the application against the county’s wishes, the county has 14 days to appeal the DNR’s decision to the Environmental Protection Commission (EPC). The EPC has 35 days to decide whether they will approve, deny, or modify the factory farm permit based on the information from the county, the DNR, and the developer.

For more information on the passing the Master Matrix or how to fight a factory farm in your community, contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.

Time and time again, our work on factory farm and environment issues since the mid ’90s has produced tangible results and given thousands of Iowans greater hope in their fight for clean air, clean water and their quality of life.

Together we have:

  • Stopped the construction of factory farms.
    Members have organized around the state by making phone calls, showing up on door steps, circulating petitions, and gathering support from legislators and county supervisors to stop the construction or expansion of dozens of factory farms.
  • Protected the interests of everyday people at the Statehouse.
    We’ve won legislation that holds factory farms accountable and have blocked numerous attempts to weaken policies that protect Iowans and our environment from the impacts of factory farms.
  • Won greater local citizen control over factory farms.
    Members have organized to make sure more and more county supervisors pass the Master Matrix resolution, an important tool for stopping the spread of factory farms. Member input has helped counties challenge and overturn decisions on factory farm construction permits approved by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
  • Pushed the state to issue violations and fines for factory farm polluters.
    We successfully petitioned the Iowa DNR to issue stiff fines and penalties for factory farm polluters and to refer pollution cases to the Iowa Attorney General for stronger enforcement action.
  • Counter corporate agriculture interests at every turn.
    We persistently challenge corporate ag’s well-funded misinformation at the Statehouse, at public meetings and in the media.
  • Exposed Iowa’s failure to protect our water.
    We helped develop the report: “Threatening Iowa’s Future: Iowa’s Failure to Implement and Enforce the Clean Water Act for Livestock Operations” which documents Iowa’s failure to regulate thousands of factory farm operations, despite federal laws clearly requiring the state to do so.
  • Led the charge to establish clean air rules in Iowa.
    We have led a grassroots campaign to establish clean air rules for factory farms. Despite opposition from powerful corporate opponents, each year our growing band of citizens moves closer to rules that will protect our air and our health. We won Iowa’s first ever hydrogen sulfide standard for factory farms in Sept. 2004.
  • Helped people win property tax relief.
    We gave neighbors the tools they needed to successfully protest their taxes when factory farms devalued their property.
  • Educated people about the use of nuisance lawsuits.
    We helped families connect with attorneys and mount successful legal cases when factory farms created a nuisance that severely impacted their quality of life and property values.

Want to learn more? Check out these additional resources on key moments in our history.


It was just a year ago that we had our first day in court for our Clean Water Lawsuit. 

We sued the State of Iowa for failing to uphold their duty to protect our right to clean water. Iowa’s increasing water pollution, and the state’s inaction on this issue, is unacceptable. People and communities are paying a heavy price for the reckless behavior of corporate ag. At Iowa CCI, we believe that we have a right to clean water – clean rivers, lakes, and streams that people can safely fish, kayak, swim in and drink. We also believe that the state has a duty to protect our right to clean and safe water. 

The Attorney General’s office responded by filing to dismiss our lawsuit because they’d rather defend the state’s failed attempts to clean up our water than stand up to the factory farm industry. 

This was the first major hurdle in our lawsuit. CCI members showed up to the courthouse in support, with excitement and anticipation, to hear the arguments from both our powerhouse legal team and the Attorney General’s office. As we gathered at the CCI headquarters that evening to celebrate the work, we were optimistic about our chances on moving forward. Months later we finally got our results, when Judge Hanson ruled in our favor, upholding our case in court and allowing it to move forward to trial. This was a huge win for our lawsuit and for Iowans right to clean water. 

The fight continues as the Attorney General’s office continues to protect corporate ag, this time appealing to the Iowa Supreme Court to review Judge Hanson’s ruling. We expect to go before the Iowa Supreme Court early this fall. As the lawsuit moves forward so does our organizing. Stay tuned on how you can help give this lawsuit life outside the courtroom and show widespread support towards our #Right2CleanWater.

While not all-encompassing, this blog and webinar series serves as a starting point and provides some clarity regarding how our call for a better food & farm system is deeply intertwined with ongoing calls for racial justice. As a majority white-led organization, this is just one way we are using our power and platform to fight back against white supremacy, exploitation, and erasure in our food system. We will continue to fight for our vision for a more racially-just food system in collaboration with our Black, Indigenous, Latinx and allies of color who have been at the forefront of this fight forever.

For more original content and all things food and water, sign up to receive CCI’s Food, Farm & Water Dispatch for monthly content straight to your inbox.


Confronting Racism & White Supremacy in our Food & Farm System

A 3-part Blog Series


As we reflect as a nation on the systemic racism in our institutions, we must also recognize and confront racism in every aspect of U.S. policy, including the agricultural policies that underpin our food and farm systems. Our modern industrial food and agricultural systems are built on a foundation of colonization, genocide, slavery and other forms of exploitation, oppression, and erasure, because industrial agriculture is built on white supremacy.

We know we need to overhaul our food system, and a key part of this overhaul is to recognize, reject and uproot the racism in our food and farm system and work towards the collective liberation of all people, by eradicating the structures that harm Black, Indigenous, Latinx and people of color most. 

This 3-part blog series looks at the role of racism in our food system — past and present — and why we must dismantle it in order to build the food and farm system we need and deserve.

Part 1: Rooted in Racism — The Unspoken History of our Food & Farm System

Part 2: How Industrial Agriculture Reinforced Oppressive Systems

Part 3: Moving Forward Together in the Call for Justice


The Food & Farm System We Need & Deserve

A 4-part Webinar Series


The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the huge cracks in our highly consolidated industrial food system, proving it’s far less resilient than the diversified, regional operations it replaced. 

Now more than ever, it’s time to transition to a food and agricultural system that works for everyone – for farmers, workers, eaters and the land. Our food and farm system belongs in the hands of a more diverse base of farmers and workers, not under the control of a small handful of giant corporations.

This 4-part webinar series dug in on these topics and allowed us to learn alongside our allies across the Midwest region who are fighting alongside us for a better, more equitable food and farm system.

Episode 1: “Creating a Better Food & Farm System for Workers”

Click here to view recording for Episode 1.

Featuring:

Axel Fuentes — Board Member, Food Chain Workers Alliance; Executive Director, Rural Community Workers Alliance (RCWA)

Axel and RCWA are at the center of an ongoing lawsuit on behalf of workers against a Smithfield packing plant for poor working conditions during the COVID-19 crisis. They are members of the Food Chain Workers Alliance – a coalition of worker-based organizations whose members are organizing to improve wages and working conditions for all works along the food chain.

Navina Khanna — Director of HEAL Food Alliance

HEAL’s mission is to build our collective power to create food and farm systems that are healthy for our families, accessible and affordable for all communities, and fair to the hard-working people who grow, distribute, prepare, and serve our food — while protecting the air, water, and land we all depend on.

Episode 2: “Creating a Better Food & Farm System for the Environment”

Click here to view recording for Episode 2.

Featuring:

Shona Snater — Bridge to Soil Heath Organizer, Land Stewardship Project (LSP)

The Bridge to Soil Health Project works with crop and livestock farmers and other professionals that view soil as a long-term investment. LSP acts as a bridge between emerging soil health information and local farming practices, thereby uniting a community of farmers as the Soil Builders’ Network.


Episode 3: “Creating a Better Food & Farm System for Eaters”

Click here to view recording for Episode 3.

Featuring:

Claire Kelloway — Reporter and Researcher, Open Markets Institute

Claire is the primary writer for Food & Power, a first-of-its-kind website, providing original reporting and resources on monopoly power and economic concentration in the food system. Her writing on food and agriculture has appeared in ProPublica, Civil Eats, Pacific Standard Magazine, and more.


Episode 4: “Creating a Better Food & Farm System for Farmers”

Click here to view recording for Episode 4.

Featuring:

Tim Gibbons — Missouri Rural Crisis Center (MRCC)

Every day MRCC fights to preserve family farms and independent family farm livestock production, promote stewardship of the land and a safe, affordable high-quality food supply, support social justice and economic opportunity, and engage rural Missourians in public policies that impact their farms, food, families and communities.

If you’ve driven around Iowa, you may have noticed row after row of long metal buildings. These are factory farms run by giant corporations like Cargill, Smithfield, and Tyson Foods.

A land that was once populated by thousands of independent family farms, is now populated with over 10,000 factory farms — operations that pack thousands of animals into one building in order to maximize profits for Big Ag.

While these profits look good in a spreadsheet, they come with a horrific cost to our communities.

These factory farms create over 22 billion gallons of toxic liquid manure that is dumped untreated onto farm fields across the state, increasing nitrogen and phosphorus levels in our waters. Now Iowa has some of the most polluted water in the country, with over 760 impaired waterways, tens of thousands of contaminated wells, and an almost 50% contribution to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. Pollution that everyday Iowans are forced to foot the bill to clean up. Despite this, the state and factory farm industry have continued to advocate for the current voluntary nutrient reduction strategy.

Our 3-Prong Strategy

To address factory farm and environmental issues and stand up for clean air, water, family farmers, and a decent quality of life for everyday Iowans, the Farm & Environment team centers our work around these three strategies.

  1. Engage in local organizing campaigns to stand up for clean air and water, and slow down factory farms from building and expanding. This helps us get local people involved and active and keeps pressure on the Iowa DNR, state policymakers, and factory farm owners/developers.
  2. Push for stronger statewide enforcement of existing laws and regulations. Together we can ensure that stiffer fines and penalties are being issued and Clean Water Act inspections and permits are being given by the Iowa DNR.
  3. Push for stronger statewide policies, rules, and regulations. We do this be organizing for local control, stronger permitting standards, stronger water and air quality standards, fairer tax policies so factory farms pay their fair share, increased separation distances to protect our communities, and a mandatory strategy to clean up our water (versus the failed voluntary program we currently have).

Want to learn more about how you can get involved? Are you concerned about water quality? Is there a factory farm trying to build in your community and you want help fighting back? We can help! Contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.

Clean Water Lawsuit

The Public Trust Doctrine guarantees the public’s right to use and enjoy navigable waters. Iowans have a right to clean water and, under this Doctrine, the state has a duty to protect that right but they have failed time and time again. Instead of providing mandatory measures, the state continues to push for a voluntary nutrient reduction strategy (NRS) which has resulted in the clean water crisis Iowa has today.

With the current voluntary strategy we have, it will take up to 913 years to reach just the first goal of the NRS.

We need a mandatory nutrient reduction strategy that incentivizes farmers to implement a variety of practices that work for them and, requires polluters, not Iowa taxpayers, to clean up this mess.

The Raccoon River alone is the source of recreation and drinking water for over 500,000 Iowans. Des Moines Water Works, the largest utility in Iowa, has one of the most expensive nitrate removal systems in the world because the utility has struggled to provide safe drinking water to Des Moines residents and other utilities who buy their water.

That is why we, along with Food & Water Watch, filed a clean water lawsuit against the State of Iowa early last year charging the state for violating it’s duty to protect our right to clean water. We are sick and tired of being told that the interests of everyday Iowans – our drinking water, our health, and our enjoyment of public waters – must be compromised for corporate ag and other industries’ profits.

This lawsuit is a wake up call to force the state to act, and now we are taking our case to the Iowa Supreme Court. Stay tuned for updates on our lawsuit and clean water work.

Moratorium Campaign

Our moratorium campaign works to stop the exploitative system of corporate ag and the factory farm industry through local campaigns, fighting for tougher enforcement, and better policies. There is growing support in Iowa for a moratorium on new and expanding factory farms. A 2019 poll of voting Iowans showed 63% support a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. And 1 in 4 Iowa counties have passed resolutions calling on the state legislature to take action for a moratorium and stronger protections from the factory farm industry.

Iowans— across party lines—want good paying jobs, clean water and air, and vibrant communities. They don’t want polluting hog factories with a limited number of low paying jobs, with profits going to giant corporations. Factory farms are out of control in Iowa and the industry continues to expand at an alarming rate. State leaders need to put people and the planet before corporate profits, politics and polluters. This is why we need a moratorium.

Still not convinced? Here are the top 10 reasons for a moratorium.

Are you interested in passing a moratorium resolution in your county? Has a factory farm application come through and you want to organize your community to stop it? Contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.

Ways To Take Action

Public Money for the Public Good Campaign

Public money should be used for the public good — invested in people and communities, not corporations. But recently Smithfield Foods hijacked $10 million of our public dollars for a manure-to-energy scheme. That ain’t right.

View our Public Money for the Public Good petition to learn more and add your name in support.

Interested in getting involved in our Clean Water & Factory Farms work? Contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.

The deadly consequences of climate change are all around us and happening faster than predicted.  Luckily, we already have everything we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and sequester enough carbon from the atmosphere to reverse global-warming.  The only thing in our way is the powerful influence that the wealthy few have on our political system to keep things the same, and time is running out.   

Iowa CCI has been building the movement to change that has joined over 250 organizations – including labor unions, student movements, Indigenous communities, and environmental & progressive organizations – to launch the THRIVE agenda, a push in Congress to begin the decade of the Green New Deal now. 

THRIVE (Transform, Heal, and Renew by Investing in a Vibrant Economy) is a congressional resolution for a just recovery package that would mobilize the nation against climate change, racial injustice, and the economic crises.  It would create 16 million new jobs rebuilding our broken infrastructure, expanding clean renewable energy, investing in land restoration and regenerative agriculture, manufacturing clean technologies, and supporting the care economy as well as vital public services. 

These jobs would be union-eligible positions with respective wages and benefits and ensure everyone who wants a job can get one.  They would prioritize investments directly into Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities. As well as those hardest hit by economic transition and environmental injustice. 

Out of the Great Depression came an unprecedented economic boom through New Deal policies and massive infrastructure projects, lifting millions of families out of poverty and creating the largest middle-class in American history.  We can do this again, right now, and ensure that everyone is included as we build a just society that finally puts People and the Planet first.

For more information about the THRIVE agenda, check out this website!

Check out this incredible video of farmers, Indigenous leaders, students, and union leaders visioning what Iowa could look like in the year 2030 if a Green New Deal is passed.

Ways To Take Action

Upcoming meetings, actions and other ways to take action will be posted here so stay tuned!

Interested in getting involved in our Climate Justice work? Contact us at iowacci@iowacci.org.