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.

  1. Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms. In the last 5 years, the DNR found over 5,000 “unknown” facilities and 400-500 additional sites are built each year.
  2. Iowa has 26 million corporate owned hogs that produce over 22 billion gallons of untreated liquid manure and raw feces. According to recent studies, Iowa produces the most waste per square mile than any other state in the country.
  3. This waste is dumped untreated on fields across that state. Meanwhile, commercial fertilizer rates have stayed the same, meaning that double and sometimes triple the amount of nitrates are being applied, saturating farm fields across the state.
  4. Runoff from factory farm manure releases pollutants into our air and water, polluting Iowa’s 767 already impaired waterways.
  5. Time is of the essence. Climate change reports indicate that as temperatures increase so too will be likelihood of toxic blue green algae outbreaks that plague our beaches.
  6. Factory farms are a public health hazard, especially for populations with weakened immune systems such as children or older adults. A recent study found that high level of nitrates in Iowa’s drinking water contributes to over 300 cases of cancer annually in the state.
  7. Manure from factory farms emit substantial amounts of toxic air pollutants. Residents living near factory farms experience increased rates of asthma. Due to this increasing threat to public health, the American Public Health Association recently endorsed a nationwide moratorium on all new and expanding factory farms.
  8. Iowans don’t like factory farms. 1 in 4 counties have passed resolutions pushing the state to act by calling for a moratorium on new and expanded factory farms, local control, and/or a complete overhaul to the current system. According to survey by Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future, 63% of Iowans think the state legislature should pass a proposal banning the construction of new CAFOs and the expansion of existing CAFOs.
  9. Factory farms are an economic drain on communities. Large corporate-owned factory farms extract profits and leave us with the pollution, lower property values, and ruin our quality of life. What we really need are independent family farms who buy locally, grow locally, and sell locally.
  10. We believe in an agricultural system that works for farmers, workers, eaters, and the environment. Our food and farm system belong in the hands of independent family farmers not under the control of a handful of giant corporations. The first step towards a better system of agriculture is a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms.

Talk to your county supervisors about passing a moratorium resolution. This non-binding resolution will send a powerful message to elected officials at the state level that everyday folks want a moratorium!

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Corporate agribusiness entities have created a false moral imperative about feeding the world. We see it perpetuated by people like former American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman who said: “Many farmers feel strongly that it’s the duty of the less than 1% of the U.S. population still directly involved in farming to help feed the masses.”

Here are three reasons why Iowa doesn’t and shouldn’t aim to feed the world:

1. Farmers aren’t incentivized to grow food. People don’t eat soybeans and corn; corporate-owned pigs at factory farms do. Agribusiness interests incentivize the overproduction of these commodity crops to create cheap feed for corporate controlled factory farms, all while degrading our natural resources and hurting farmers who are forced to farm fence-row to fence-row to try to scrape by. Farmers receive prices lower than the cost of production, while all the profits go straight to the top.

2. This false narrative is rooted in racism and the patriarchy. The corporate-conservative agenda that puts profits before everything is deeply tied to the oppression of people based on the color of their skin, where they come from, and their gender.

Our corporate-controlled agriculture system is no exception and is dependent on the division of everyday people based on perceived differences. At the root of this false narrative is the concept that white male farmers know best how to feed people all across the globe. And these seeds grow the kind of barriers that have kept Black farmers from landownership since Emancipation.

3. Our highly industrial agriculture system is far less resilient than the smaller, regional and diversified family farm operations it replaced. Because of the rampant consolidation over the last 40 years, if one piece of the system is removed the whole thing crumbles. There is no flexibility. As a result during the COVID-19 pandemic, we see cars line up for miles outside of food banks across the country while farmers are forced to kill livestock, dump milk and waste food. Instead of corporations monopolizing a global market and having CEOs dictate how food should be grown “for the world”, we need to stop and re-evaluate how we do better. That starts with a moratorium on factory farms.

It’s safe to say that the make up of our industrial agriculture system is not to feed the world but at the root is created by decades of bad policy driven by corporate greed.

For more content like this sign up here to receive ‘The Dispatch” a monthly publication on all things food and water related from Iowa CCI.

Local, State, and National Groups Unite in Support of Immediate Moratorium on Factory Farms Amid Covid-19 Crisis

Des Moines, IA – Iowans overwhelmed by COVID-19 crisis are infuriated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ removal of environmental protections from factory farms and the compromised democratic process for permitting amid the global health pandemic. 18 environmental, community, and agricultural organizations are calling on Governor Reynolds to enforce an immediate 6-month moratorium on factory farm construction permits to prevent public health and environmental exploitation by the factory farm industry.

The letter was initiated by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and states:

“Iowa has over 10,000 factory farms. Factory farms are a known public health hazard, causing a variety of health problems including respiratory issues especially for vulnerable populations. This is such a public health concern that the American Public Health Association has called for a moratorium. In the midst of a global health pandemic Iowans are overwhelmed with public safety and health. We should not have to worry about a factory farm moving in further threatening our public health during and beyond this crisis.”

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has rolled back environmental and health protections by allowing factory farms to cram extra animals into confinement buildings and suspending fines for environmental violations.

Additionally, despite DNR offices closing and limited activities being switched to virtual teleconference, permitting for factory farm construction is continuing. County boards of supervisors are being forced to determine how they will proceed with public comment.

“In the past, Reynolds and her administration have fought calls for local control and a moratorium at all cost in order to carry out the factory farm industry’s agenda. But now, during a global health pandemic, Reynolds and the DNR have pushed the responsibility onto each county regarding how they will handle public comment on factory farm applications,” said Louise Minor, CCI Member from West Des Moines, IA.

“The effects of the COVID-19 are and will continue to impact Iowans beyond even the immediate crisis we are facing. We are demanding that Governor Reynolds stand with the interests of everyday Iowans by protecting our public health, our right to clean water and our ability to participate in the democratic process by implementing an immediate 6-month moratorium on factory farms,” said Ava Auen-Ryan, Iowa CCI community organizer.

Iowa CCI members site growing support for a factory farm moratorium. A 2019 poll of voting Iowans showed 63% support a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms. One in four Iowa counties have passed resolutions calling on the state legislature to take action for a moratorium and stronger protections from the factory farm industry. In 2019, Iowa CCI along with Food & Water Watch and Public Justice, filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa for their failure to address the impact of corporate agriculture and the factory farm industry on Iowa’s water crisis.

CCI members point to the growing in-state and national momentum ahead of the 2020 legislative session

For Immediate release: 12/17/19

Des Moines, IA – Yesterday Senator Booker (D-NJ) introduced a national factory farm moratorium. The Farm System Reform Act of 2019 would put a halt on all new or expanding factory farms amongst other policies to create a level playing field for independent family farmers.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) say that this is the solution needed in Iowa to restore vibrant rural communities and clean up the state’s water.

“The factory farm industry extracts profits from our rural communities and leaves us to deal with the pollution,” said Barb Kalbach a CCI member and 4th generation family farmer from Adair county. “We have over 10,000 factory farms in Iowa, a moratorium is the only solution that matches the scale of the crisis.”

Iowa CCI points to the growing grassroots support for a moratorium across the state. With over 6,000 Iowans signing a petition calling for a moratorium, and 26 counties passing a resolution calling for a moratorium and/or stronger regulations on factory farms.

“People across the state, rural and urban alike, understand that the factory farm industry isn’t working for us,” said Brenda Brink a CCI member from rural Story county. “It is time for our state legislators to respond to our needs, not corporate ag interests. That means passing a moratorium at the state legislature.”

Iowa is the leading hog producer in the nation with over 26 million hogs in confinement at any given time, meaning 1 in every 3 hogs produced in the United States. These factory farms generate over 22 billion gallons of toxic liquid manure that is dumped untreated onto farm fields across the state. Between human and animal waste Iowa creates the equivalent of 168 million people, in a state with only 3.2 million people.

In response to the inaction of the Governor and legislature, Iowa CCI, along with Food & Water Watch and Public Justice have filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa. This lawsuit addresses their failure to address the impact of corporate ag and the factory farm industry on Iowa’s water crisis. Iowa’s 767 impaired waterways prevent Iowans from fishing, swimming in and kayaking on state rivers and also results in higher drinking water costs.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a statewide, grassroots people’s action group that uses community organizing to win public policy that puts communities before corporations and people before profits, politics and polluters. CCI has been fighting to put people first for over 40 years. Follow us on Twitter at @iowacci.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members celebrate the 26th county to call for changes to the factory farm industry

Waterloo, IA – This morning the Black Hawk county board of supervisors passed a resolution that petitions the Governor and Iowa legislature for a moratorium on new or expanding factory farms in the state. A moratorium would stop all construction of new or expanding factory farms.

Members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement call this resolution a step in the right direction in the statewide fight for clean water.

“If we want clean water in Iowa we need a moratorium on factory farms. We have over 10,000 factory farms and hundreds more go up each year,” said Margaret Whiting a Iowa CCI member and Black Hawk resident. “It’s time to stop construction of factory farms and get serious about cleaning up our water.”

This makes Black Hawk county the 26th county to pass a resolution calling for change to industrial agriculture and specifically the factory farm industry.

“It’s time for even more counties to take a stand like Black Hawk county did this morning. We won’t get clean water by doing nothing,” said Ava Auen-Ryan, an organizer at Iowa CCI. “These resolutions show the Governor and elected state officials that Iowans have had enough, and we want them to take Iowa’s water crisis seriously. That means a moratorium.”