Smithfield Foods says it will cover most of its open hog waste lagoons over the next 10 years in North Carolina and other states to capture methane to be burned for energy.
Lagoon covers are one of several measures the big hog producer plans as part of a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 25 percent by 2025.
Smithfield also pledges to reduce truck traffic and plant more vegetable buffers around its farms And it's adopting new tools for spraying hog waste on fields to reduce concerns about waste blowing onto nearby properties. That's been the subject of lawsuits by neighbors.
The company has been coordinating efforts with the Environmental Defense Fund.
"This commitment makes real progress on greenhouse gas emissions and also helps farms be more resilient to extreme weather events, like we just saw with Hurricane Florence," said Maggie Monast, a North Carolina manager for the fund.
But critics, including the Southern Environmental Law Center, say the plan keeps what it calls Smithfield's "primitive" lagoon-and-spray system, and leaves hog waste lagoons at risk from flooding during major storms. Monast acknowledges those concerns.
"What it doesn't eliminate are water quality concerns and odor," Monast said. "So those are areas where we'll be looking to continue to partner with scientists, Smithfield and others to make sure we measure the effects of the transition in the industry."
Lagoons at most of Smithfield's farms in North Carolina, Missouri and Utah will be covered and connected to equipment that will capture and process methane into renewable natural gas. Smith already has a pilot facility called Optima KV at five southeastern North Carolina farms. It sells the gas to Duke Energy.