CAFO_USDA.jpg: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/livestock/afo/ United States Department of Agriculture

Of the 288 large livestock operations constructed in the last year, more than 250 were in Iowa, according to Environmental Protection Agency data. 

Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are enclosed barns that house thousands of animals at a time. The EPA issues permits to CAFOs that reach certain size thresholds and discharge pollutants into federally-regulated waters. 

These permits cover around a third of the CAFOs in the country. Each year, the EPA releases a status report on the CAFO permit program, called the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. 

READ MORE: Large CAFOs are known polluters. Here’s why EPA permits only cover one-third.

The agency’s May 2023 report, based on data collected by EPA regions, shows that the United States added 288 CAFOs from 2021 to 2022. Most of the growth was in Iowa, while states like Delaware and Minnesota saw decreases in the number of large CAFOs. 

Iowa is also among the states with the lowest rate of federal permits. While the number of CAFOs in the state increased from 2021 to 2022, the number of federal permits stayed the same, covering just 167 of the more than 4,200 CAFOs.

The definition of a CAFO can vary at the state level. The EPA defines a CAFO in its report as housing the equivalent of 700 dairy cattle, 2,500 swine or up to 125,000 chickens. 

Type of work:

Explainer A data-driven story that provides background, definition and detail on a specific topic.

Madison McVan is from Pflugerville, Texas, where she discovered her love for journalism while working at her high school newspaper. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2020 with degrees...