Eastern North Carolina is under attack

Storm clouds gather over a Duplin County hog farm.

There is an astonishing story being told in a federal courtroom in Raleigh right now.

It’s coming from a Texas lawyer named Michael Kaeske.

He’s speaking to 12 jurors, trying to sell them on the notion that a hog farm in North Carolina is a legal nuisance – one that is willfully, maliciously, and intentionally interfering with the property of a husband and wife who moved in next to the farm several years after it began operation.

It’s all part of his plan to win a big pile of money from Murphy-Brown, the hog producing division of Smithfield Foods.

Here’s what is most concerning: If successful, the lawsuit will most certainly put the farmer out of business. He will be forced to stop raising livestock on his land that he and his family have farmed for decades.

The Texas lawyer is painting an ugly picture of eastern North Carolina in the courtroom. Especially Duplin County.

To hear him tell it, the hog farms in Duplin County are horrendous and nefarious, producing odor and causing harm to neighbors. To hear him tell it, you’d think the region east of I-95 is some sort of apocalyptic territory where pigs and hogs ruin both lives and property.

Several farmers I know were in the courtroom.

They listened to these tales and wondered what in the world he was talking about. Most hog farmers live on their farms, raise their families on their farms, and know their neighbors well.

Weddings are held on or next to their farms.

And cookouts. And family reunions. And ball games.

Gardens are planted. Children bounce on trampolines and shoot baskets. Friends and families gather on weekend evenings around fire pits and on patios, in screened rooms and front porches – on hog farms and next to them.

Entire subdivisions have sprouted around hog farms, and tens of thousands of people live near hog farms in North Carolina.

And they know the truth – which is that pig, chicken, turkey and other livestock farms occasionally do have odor, but it’s not awful and it’s not frequent. It’s easy for the Texas lawyer to say otherwise when he knows that members of the jury will never have the chance to experience it for themselves, even though Murphy-Brown wanted them to visit the farm.

These 12 jurors showed up in court on Tuesday morning as called, answered some questions and soon found themselves seated in a bright, high-ceilinged, wood-paneled courtroom. Then a Texas lawyer started barking at them about how bad things are in a place they’ve never been – and a place that a judge won’t let them visit.

Duplin County, to most people who live there, is heaven on Earth.

It’s far away from the lights. Away from hustle and bustle. Far from Beltlines and Outer Loops and cookie cutter strip malls.

There’s no Red Hat or Lenovo or SAS.

But there are plenty of families who raise livestock and grow crops. It’s a place in North Carolina that has always been – and, hopefully, always will be – a backbone of the state’s agricultural economy.

It’s a place that proudly produces safe and nutritious food for our growing population.

All that is under attack by the Texas lawyer. If he succeeds, he’ll win some money.

And all of North Carolina will be hurt, deeply.

— Andy Curliss, CEO