The Wisconsin dairy industry raised a stink Monday over potential new restrictions on manure storage, insisting the regulations would make life harder on struggling farmers and force them to relocate.
State agriculture officials have been working for nearly three years on new farm siting standards. If the governor and Legislature approve the standards local governments could impose them as local ordinances or ignore them.
Regardless, industry advocates say the changes would have a chilling effect on factory farm expansion at a time when farmers are already grappling with low milk prices. The new standards would be so onerous that farmers could move to other states, a coalition of agricultural groups said during a state Capitol news conference.
“Adoption of this rule without change will simply put a halt to livestock expansion in the state,” said Cindy Leitner, president of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, which represents factory farms.
The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection adopted regulations in 2006 that set up a minimum 350-foot minimum distance between manure pits on farms with 500 or more animals and neighbors’ property lines. If a local government permits farms it must apply the state standards. So far 134 local governments have imposed the standards, according to DATCP figures.
Things changed in April when a DATCP advisory committee concluded a 350-foot minimum doesn’t protect residences, schools and other high-use areas such as playgrounds from odors.
Under the proposal, new farms with at least 500 animals as well as farms looking to expand to at least 500 animals to place manure storage facilities between 600 feet and 2,500 feet from neighbors’ property lines depending on the size of the herd.
Farms could reduce the setback by taking steps to mitigate the stench, such as using anaerobic digesters and injecting manure into the ground rather than spreading it.
The agricultural groups sent a letter last week to DATCP arguing nothing shows the new approach will be workable. For example, farmers could be forced to fit manure facilities thousands of feet from a neighbor’s empty field rather than a residence, they said.
They also accused DATCP of not running tests on how the new setbacks would affect farms and lamented that farmers would have to purchase expensive odor-mitigation equipment to reduce setback distances.
“The changes would ... send a message that we don’t want modern dairy farms in our state,” Tom Crave, president of the Dairy Business Association, said at the news conference.
Sara Walling, administrator of DATCP’s agricultural resource management division, said the department doesn’t want to run anyone out of Wisconsin. She stressed that the changes would apply only to new farms and farmers looking to expand. Still, the department is poring over public comments on regulations with an eye toward tweaks, she said.
“We intend to take all of this into consideration,” Walling said. “This is a balancing act we’re trying to strike (between) the interest of the farm and the community in which it resides.”
DATCP plans to submit a final version of the regulations to its board in November. If the board signs off the regulations would go next to Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for approval. A green light from the governor would send the package to the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff didn’t immediately respond to an email asking if the governor supports the changes. Mike Mikalsen, an aide to Republican state Sen. Steve Nass, co-chairman of the Legislature’s rules committee, also didn’t immediately respond to an email.