Disputed expansion

Daley Farms of Lewiston LLP’s variance request denied in Winona County

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LEWISTON, Minn. — A judge recently rejected an appeal made by Daley Farms of Lewiston LLP regarding their proposed expansion and variance on the animal unit cap for their property.

The judge’s decision comes after the Daley family appealed a denial for the expansion. The decision upholds an earlier decision by Winona County, which voted to deny the request.

Daley Farms of Lewiston has been working on the permitting process for their proposed dairy farm expansion since 2017 and planning the expansion since 2014 when they began thinking about adding family partners.

Shelly DePestel is a family member partner at Daley Farms of Lewiston. 

“If you’re going to add people and expand, you need more cows,” DePestel said. “That was the whole point of a variance.”

Mark Daley, also a family member partner, said the decision against them was not unexpected. 

“Obviously, (we are) disappointed in the decision, but we were thinking it was going to go to the next step anyway,” Daley said.

Paul Reuvers, of Iverson Reuvers, serves as counsel for Winona County.

“This ruling vindicates the county,” Reuvers said. “The court found there was absolutely no evidence of any improprieties whatsoever.”

Reuvers said the board’s denial was based on economics.

“There was a lot of discussion about the size and whether there were not practical difficulties,” Reuvers said. “The bottom line was the board found that this was about economics, and the statute is clear: You can’t obtain a variance solely on economic grounds.”

Daley Farms of Lewiston was established in 1998 when three farm sites in the Daley family joined together on a new piece of property. Today, the 1,426-cow herd is housed in four sand-bedded freestall barns and milked in a 48-stall rotary parlor on the site. The youngstock and dry cows are housed at six other locations.

The farm has around 2,800 tillable acres and 850 acres of pasture. The farm is owned by 10 family members who are assisted by 27 employees.

If the proposed expansion would be approved, the Daley family would add a 3,000-cow cross-ventilated freestall barn to bring their milking herd to a max capacity of 3,983 cows. 

To accommodate an increased herd, the Daleys would like to install a 60- to 80-stall rotary parlor to replace their current rotary, a manure lagoon, runoff controls, a sand processing and storage building, an animal mortality building, and an additional feed pad as well as eliminate outdated facilities.

This would allow the family to shift the roles of their current farm sites. Heifers would be housed in the four barns that currently house the milking cows. Breeding of heifers would occur at the main farm site. The family would also bring their calving back to the main site as well as special needs animals.

In Winona County, a dairy cow weighing more than 1,000 pounds equals 1.4 animal units.

The Daleys were grandfathered into the current animal unit cap in Winona County which is 1,500 animal units. Their proposed expansion would take them to around 5,900 animal units.

The Daley family planned the expansion with the goal to bring on five family-member partners of the next generation. In the last two years, these five members of the partnership bought out two older family members.

DePestel said that helping these five partners start smaller farms would mean they lose the efficiencies of a larger operation.

“To say that there’s no financial component would be ridiculous,” DePestel said. “Is it the only consideration? No. ... How else do you make sure that (the next generation) can farm?”

Reuvers said that in order for Daley Farms of Lewiston to be granted an exception to the county’s animal unit cap, they needed to demonstrate they met the criteria.

“There was substantial evidence in the record that ... this was about money and not about what they call practical difficulties,” Reuvers said. “In other words, there’s nothing unique about the shape of the property or the land. … They could have several smaller ones (feedlots), but that costs more money.”

The most recent hearing was the second variance hearing Daley Farms of Lewiston has had before the Board of Adjustment.

The first hearing was in 2019, when the family’s first request for variance was denied.

However, when the family appealed before a judge, the court ruled the decision was “so severely tainted by members of the Board of Adjustment,” and it was remanded to Winona County for a second hearing.

DePestel said she wanted a fair hearing before a board that did not have preconceived notions.

“It really just felt all wrong,” DePestel said. 

The family alleges that the Board of Adjustment that heard their second hearing was also biased against them, according to Nov. 21 court documents.

According to court documents, the Daleys claim at least one member of the board was recruited to apply to the board and was a member of Land Stewardship Project. They also allege a county commissioner participated in advocacy efforts against their project. 

However, Reuvers said that the board members were appointed before the county knew the case was going to be remanded.

“How could the county hand select or stack the deck if we did not know that it was going to get sent back for a second hearing?” Reuvers said.

Reuvers also said the county reappointed a Board of Adjustment member who had voted in favor of the variance at the first hearing.

The family plans to appeal the latest decision.

“We’re not at the wall yet,” DePestel said. “It’s not the end, but we’re wide open to ideas like where our opportunities for growth are that don’t include dairy cows.”

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