May 31, 2022 at 1:27 p.m.

Committee proposes law to limit animal agriculture

By Danielle Nauman- | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

    LUCK, Wis. – Five townships in northern Polk County and one township in southern Burnett County are regulating farms operating as concentrated animal feeding operations.
    Town board representatives from Bone Lake Township in Polk County listened to a presentation of a proposed ordinance and heard from the owners of a dairy farm operating as a CAFO in a neighboring township at a meeting May 19.
    The proposed ordinance was created by the Large Livestock Partnership Committee which is comprised of six members, one appointed by each of the townships of Bone Lake, Eureka, Laketown, Luck and Sterling in Polk County and the township of Trade Lake in Burnett County. Each township committed up to $3,000 to the committee for developing the ordinance.
    “All six committee members making these rules basically have no animal agriculture experience and all have a long history of anti-agriculture activism. None earn their living from agriculture,” Brad Olson said. “Their activism is apparent. They look to no other sources of pollution beyond agriculture. When you ask who will feed the world, they have no answers.”
Olson milks 40 cows in the Clam Falls Township in Polk County. Olson is a 15-year veteran of his town board and is starting his fourth term on the Polk County Board.
    Wisconsin CAFO regulations define a CAFO as 1,000 animal units, with an animal unit being 1,000 pounds of live body weight, which is typically thought to encompass 700 dairy cows.
    In order to learn more about the state’s required permitting process and how a large family dairy farm operates, the town board invited Roger and Brandon Owens, of Owens Farms Inc., a 750-cow dairy farm located in nearby Lorain Township. The Owens family have farmed in Polk County since 1912. Today, the 1,600-acre farm is owned and operated by eight members of the family with several other family members, and six non-family employees, working on the farm.  
    Owens Farms, Inc. obtained their first CAFO permit in 2007, and completed the fourth renewal of that permit, a task that Brandon Owens said takes time and diligence.
    “It takes about a year to go through the renewal process,” Owens said. “Then, if there are things that need to be changed, you have to come up with a plan for what needs to be changed, how you are going to change it and a timeline for the change.”
    During each permitting process, a farm needs to prove that for the duration of the permit all manure and run-off can be handled and disposed of by the farm.
    “They look at what your fields can handle, based off of soil tests and contents of the nutrients,” Owens said. “If you can’t do it, they are not going to give you a permit. You have to be able to prove it for five years.”
    A soil test is required every four years to comply with CAFO regulations, according to Owens. While the state requires a liquid manure sample to be tested each month manure is being spread, Owens said they opt to sample each day they are spreading.
    “We have a better idea of exactly where we are at,” Owens said. “We use an agitator to stir the pit to get it as consistent as possible. Our samples have gotten more consistent, which makes it easier to manage our nutrients.”
     Following Owens’ presentation, Large Livestock Partnership Committee chairperson Lisa Doerr, of Laketown Township, presented the ordinance drafted along with the research she said her committee used to reach their conclusions.
    The ordinance has been presented to each of the other member townships, with the townships of Laketown and Eureka passing the ordinance as drafted, and Trade Lake Township passing a more restrictive version that sets the definition of a CAFO at 500 animal units. Residents of Laketown Township, along with Wisconsin Manufacturing and Commerce, have filed a notice of claim against the ordinance.
    According to Doerr, the six townships cover about 250 square miles in Polk and Burnett counties, with about 6,000 people living in those townships and over $655 million in property values.
    “The property values are one of the big things people are concerned about,” Doerr said. “We came together to share our expertise and resources in order to protect the public health and these property values, and that has always been the goal throughout this process.”
    Because the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources CAFO permitting focuses on nutrient management and water quality protection, Doerr said she and other members of the committee felt there was a need to implement increased regulation on what they viewed as large-scale livestock agriculture.
    “The committee doesn’t make any of the decisions for the towns,” Doerr said. “We have developed the technical and legal parameters for the ordinance, but the towns are making all of the decisions.”
    In the model ordinance proposed to the Bone Lake Town Board, the committee defined a CAFO as 700 animal units. Existing livestock facilities located in the township would not be immediately impacted by the ordinance unless there would be a change in owner, operator, species or an expansion to exceed 1,000 animal units.
    In addition to complying with the DNR’s requirements for nutrient management plans, the ordinance would require impacted owners to comply with additional water testing requirements and procure manure land application agreements with a minimum five-year contract.
    The application process would also require farmers to develop and submit plans pertaining to odor and toxic air pollution prevention; effects on community economics, land use and property value assessment; compliance with testing, sampling and monitoring requirements; and development of a fire safety needs analysis.
    All applicants will be required to ensure that funds are available for potential pollution clean-up, nuisance abatement and for proper closure, with a plan in place for closure, clean-up, decommissioning and site restoration; with the caveat that the township may adjust the required dollar amounts on an annual basis. The application process would cost farmers $1 per animal unit, required to be submitted with the application.
    “This is not a ban on CAFOs; it is not a permitting or siting ordinance,” Doerr said. “It is an operations ordinance. It is a different body of law that it is developed under and it is actually looking at how a plant is operated. It is setting up requirements that we hope the operation can meet to be a good neighbor that protect the public health, water and air quality, and the property values of the people who have spent their lives working to live here.”
    Olson disagreed with Doerr.
    “This ordinance was developed so that no animal agriculture producer can expand over 700 animal units,” Olson said. “The cost of complying with the ordinance makes expansion cost prohibitive. It effectively bans an entire industry from growing.”
    After hearing the proposed ordinance, the Bone Lake Town Board set a period of public comment that will be open through the board’s July meeting. The board plans to vote on the issue at their August meeting.


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