Residents of Emerald in St. Croix County are the latest among those trying to protect themselves and the St. Croix River, a National Scenic Riverway including four prized trout streams, from the threats of an industrial dairy expansion in the region.
Like the highly contaminated Kewaunee County in northeast Wisconsin, where 34 percent of the tested wells are undrinkable due to high nitrates, E. coli or both, this area of the state’s water is highly vulnerable due to its karst topography.
Both nationwide and in Wisconsin, we are experiencing the social and environmental devastation of concentrated animal feeding operations, where thousands of animals are held in the confinement model, referred to as a “unit commodity,” their products exported out of the community while the externalization of their costs, including massive amounts of manure, are left on the industrialized landscape and in the tainted air and water surrounding the operation.
New operations and expansions seek communities with the proclamation of jobs, economic prosperity and promises to be good neighbors practicing best management.
Resistance to the threats of CAFOs, including plunging property values, health threats and concerns of possible and probable ruination of both air and water quality, are often met with the statement that if you do not support this agricultural model, you are “anti-farming.” Areas struggling with poverty and disenfranchised citizenry are easy marks for the predatory behavior of the agribusiness industrial model and its venture wrapped up as “economic opportunity” for areas desolate and struggling.
The “economic opportunities” exist for the very few of the agribusiness giants, and setting up shop almost always spells hardship and harm for those who must reside near the operation, who are subject to both the resulting water and air quality contamination that exists where thousands of animals are placed, overtaxing the carrying capacity of the land with manure waste — liquid lagoon slurry — and its methane, hydrogen sulfide, ammonias and volatile organic compounds. Air quality issues are unregulated, offering no protection for citizenry left exposed that must breathe the toxicity.
The fragmentation of once peaceful communities is one of the first things residents experience from the “fallout” of the CAFO; lifelong friends, church-goers, family and community members begin to experience the contention and division brought about by the industrialized dairy, that while whispering the promises of betterment for a community actually has the ability to destroy not only the natural resources of the area but lifelong relations and community cohesiveness. The divided parties turn communities into a battleground of anger and tension, some hoping for the good promised by such large operations and others knowing the impending devastation on the horizon.
Chesapeake Bay, Yakima Valley, Des Moines, Iowa, and the dead zone in Green Bay, plagued by algae plumes, excessive high nitrates and E. coli, indicate the inability for these mega-operations and communities to co-exist. The factory farm model has within its ability, just through its sheer numbers, to contaminate and cause great harm to human health and the environment.
St. Croix County’s community and the National Scenic Riverway must be protected from the industrialized agribusiness dairy expansion that is proposed in this region — an area highly vulnerable to contamination due to its karst topography. Protect your property values, the ones you love and the land, air and water where you live. Don’t become another pollution statistic like the regions discussed here that must now spend multi-millions of dollars in clean-up and remediation in attempts to have water that is not poisoned.
Nancy Utesch is a beef farmer in the town of Pierce in Kewaunee County.