June 14, 2022 at 2:36 p.m.
Disarming the Pied Piper
I was slow to recognize this story as I saw bits and pieces float across my social media feed while waiting for water tanks to fill. Once the light bulb came on, I started digging a little. I had no idea the things I would learn and hear, or the people I would meet, in the weeks to come during my trips to northwestern Wisconsin. Every conversation leads me to the next person with a story to tell regarding how they will be impacted by what is happening in their community.
In 2019, an Iowa company began the process of bringing a large CAFO hog farm to southern Burnett County. Some local residents rallied behind a group of area activists with many past connections to anti-animal agriculture groups and activities. What began under the guise of stopping that particular hog farm from being built now appears to be an attempt to eventually shut down animal agriculture at least in Polk and Burnett counties.
Committees were formed under the guise of research and fact-finding. Local farmers were even appointed to some of the earliest committees. What soon became apparent to those farmers was the true intention of those spearheading this movement.
Eventually people from six townships joined together, with township approval and funding, to create the Large Livestock Partnership Committee. Each of the member townships – Bone Lake, Eureka, Laketown, Luck and Sterling in Polk County and Trade Lake in Burnett County – appointed a representative and committed up to $3,000 of taxpayer money to fund the committee.
This committee completed a report and drafted a proposed ordinance. The ordinance, which the committee said is operational, defines a concentrated animal feeding operation as being 700 animal units as opposed to the 1,000 animal units standard set by the state. The regulatory burden of complying with these ordinances will place undue pressure on dairy farmers, a financial burden most will be unlikely to bear.
The ordinance has been presented to all six townships. Laketown and Eureka have adopted the ordinance at 700 animal units, while Trade Lake adopted a more restrictive version at 500 animal units. Bone Lake and Luck have heard the presentation and are considering the ordinance, but have not yet voted. Sterling has yet to have the ordinance presented.
The reports and proposed ordinance are worth reading, even if you may be seeing red by the end. This is no longer something we read about in another state, something we can shake our head at. This is here in our backyard. These people are our neighbors living among us. It can happen anywhere.
For animal agriculture, the rhetoric spread by the groups fighting what they consider to be factory farms is a virus much worse than any pandemic we have faced. But, there has been a silver lining to the strife.
Farmers – large, small and medium – have united in the fight to protect their livelihoods from the reaches of the proposed and enacted ordinances and the fear-mongering misinformation being doled out by activists. Fighting the anti-animal agriculture rhetoric has become the focal point. There is no longer room for the argument of big dairy versus small dairy or conventional production versus organic production. This is not about size, scale or means, it is simply about whether or not you are involved in animal agriculture.
The people driving these ordinances and propagating the gross distribution of untruths that they attempt to call facts are consummate community organizers. They know how to appeal to the emotions of people who lack the connection with and background knowledge of modern-day farming and food production. They appeal to their senses and play on their naivete and, like the Pied Piper, lure them with the false information they spread about animal agriculture.
I started out referring to this as being an anti-CAFO ordinance. I was wrong. It is so much more and goes so much deeper than a public misconception about large-scale animal agriculture. This is indeed war on animal agriculture, and one that will trickle town and eventually affect agriculture as a whole. This is a battle being waged against not only our livelihoods but our very way of life.
As an industry, we all need to become more aware and more involved in government at our local levels. Township and county boards are typically the drivers of ordinances that most affect our daily lives and the daily operations of our farms.
Do you know when and where your township and county boards meet? Do you know who is representing you on those boards? Do those individuals represent your ideas and ethics? Do they understand what operating your business requires?
If you cannot answer yes to those questions, you probably need to get to know your township and county board representatives. Make your opinions heard. Go to the meetings and support candidates who support agriculture. If that voice does not represent you, you might need to become that voice.
My dad always used to say, “Evil will prevail when good men do nothing, so I must do something.”
It is time we all start doing something.
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