An Illinois dairy producer finally got the go ahead to finish the expansion to 500 cows he has been planning since 1998.

George Willer, Farview Dairy in Adams County, Ill., was all set to expand the operation when a lawsuit was filed against the dairy. The plaintiffs claimed that the house Willer’s mother lived in on the dairy was a non-farm residence and that under the Illinois Livestock Management Facilities Act, the expansion plan did not meet the setback requirements for a non-farm residence. Under the Act, setback requirements differ for farm residences and non-farm residences.

Willer’s parents Fred and Esther started the dairy in 1947. And Esther has always lived at the farm and worked on the dairy. However, at 85 she no longer performs daily chores and in the lawsuit the plaintiffs stated she was a non-farm resident and that the expansion plans did not allow enough room for setbacks. Last April the trial court agreed with the objectors stating that Esther did not have a material investment in the dairy so she was in fact a non-farm resident. Willer appealed.

Last week, the Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court ruled in favor of Willer stating that Esther’s house is a farm residence and that the expansion plans will not violate the setback requirements contained in the Illinois Livestock Management Facilities Act. In addition, the court said the home is not on a separate tract of land, and it does not have a separate legal description from the Willers’ farm.

The group who filed the original lawsuit against the dairy has until Aug. 2 to ask the appellate court to rehear the case, or to appeal it to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Their attorney, Brett Gorman of Quincy, Ill., says the group is "frustrated" at the outcome. The ag department did not apply the act, says Gorman. They did nothing to verify that the Willers’ expansion plans complied with the quarter-mile setback.

All George Willer wants is to get back to the business of milking cows.

"We're very relieved, very pleased with the outcome," Willer told The State Journal-Register. "We've got a business to run on an everyday basis. All the added litigation and very considerable costs took away from that."

His advice to other livestock producers planning to expand: "Hire professional people and expect trouble. Do everything you can to pacify the opposition. In the beginning, we tried to be the nice guy, hoping everything would take care of itself. It didn't."

Tim Maiers, communications director with the Illinois Pork Producers Association, said the outcome of the battle has precedent-setting implications for all livestock and all of agriculture in Illinois. Maiers told The State Journal-Register that the appellate court's decision reaffirmed that the Livestock Management Facilities Act works.

The State Journal-Register