MADISON — Impassioned presenters asked Wisconsin agriculture officials to move stricter rules forward relating to the siting of large livestock operations at a Wisconsin Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Board meeting Dec. 21, but new DATCP Secretary Sheila Harsdorf said the time wasn’t quite right to vote on proposed revisions to the rule.
The board heard public testimony from three women who asked the board to follow through on revisions to ATCP 51, the livestock-siting ordinance, that was reviewed by the panel in July. At that time, the board voted to table a hearing draft that includes increases in setbacks from neighboring property lines.
Ben Brancel was DATCP secretary when the hearing draft was considered in July, and since then, Interim Secretary Jeff Lyon and newly minted Secretary Sheila Harsdorf have begun to solicit input on the proposed changes.
DATCP Chief Legal Counsel Paul Dedinsky said Lyon held meetings with two small groups to discuss the potential ramifications of the rules and Harsdorf said she met with officials from the Wisconsin Farmers Union since she became DATCP secretary in November to get input on the proposal. She said she would “like to circle back with various groups” before moving the rule forward.
The state’s livestock-siting law was passed in 2003 and hasn’t been reviewed since 2006, according to DATCP officials. The rule’s intent was to provide a uniform framework for local permitting.
At the July meeting, Chris Clayton of the DATCP’s Bureau of Land and Water Resources said the intent of the rule updates is to provide consistency with other rules, define permit modifications, clarify permit approval and monitoring, simplify the odor standard and balance requirements for managing runoff.
Clayton said the revised odor standard is “quite a shift” and creates a setback system for managing odor that’s easier to understand. The approach is similar to that used in Illinois, Iowa and Michigan.
At the July meeting, several large livestock operators said the rule changes could chase Wisconsin dairy farmers to more dairy-friendly states and that the proposed setbacks would be an extra layer of oversight that isn’t necessary.
But the three women who testified Dec. 21 disagreed. They said the value of neighboring land is being impacted by large operations and air and water quality are being compromised.
“The quality of life definitely goes down when you live close to a (concentrated animal feeding operation),” said Dela Ends of Brodhead, one of the women who testified. “Where I live family farms are the heart of our community. They have every much as right to operate their businesses as the big guys. We need you to stand up for us. It’s not legal to stand up for one over the other.”
Ends said she got “raging headaches” from the high nitrates in their groundwater so they had to purchase a water-filtration system. Their farm is located near a large dairy farm.
“We have little grandchildren on the farm and we want them to grow up here,” she said. “Please take care of us.”
Bethany Storm from Blanchardville said where she lives, 95 percent of the soils are karst, which means there is less than 5 feet of topsoil on top of fractured bedrock.
“Last month my well tested positive for bacteria,” she said. “I had it tested a second time and it came back positive again. The well is 240 feet deep, cased to 169 feet, but there is a possibility there is a fissure going from the surface through a lateral run right to my well.
“There is a farm for sale across the road from me. It could end up being anything — hog, poultry, mink, goats, anything. I am asking you to please take into consideration my tiny town with small resources. Please think of my family that I want to keep out on the land.”
Kara O’Connor, government relations director for the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said she had a good discussion with Harsdorf about the work the DATCP and WFU are doing to help young farmers get a start in agriculture. But she said that work is made more challenging by the prospect of young farmers’ quality of life and property values diminishing because of the spillover effects of large livestock.
“I have a hard time saying the rural area is a great place to raise a family in some instances,” she said. “Mostly these are instances where the operations are simply too large for the site they’re on or too close to their neighbor.”
O’Connor said the DATCP Board “has an opportunity to remedy problems we know exist and that are becoming more and more obvious.”
O’Connor said she anticipated the rules would be reviewed by the board by December, since they were first discussed by the panel five months earlier.
“I think it would be a good goal for this body to set a timeline coming out of this meeting to move forward,” O’Connor said. “I encourage you to set a goal today of when this will come back to you.”
In a discussion later in the meeting with the board, Harsdorf said she didn’t have a timeframe for when the hearing draft would be coming to the panel for further review. She said she wanted to meet with stakeholder groups to get input before moving the rules forward.