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WUWM's Susan Bence reports on Wisconsin environmental issues.

Opinions Vary On How Large Wisconsin Livestock Operations Should Be Regulated

Arlin Karnopp
Manure runoff, here in Kewaunee County, is one of the concerns swirling around large dairy operations in Wisconsin.

Every four years Wisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) reviews what is called the Livestock Facility Siting Law. The law, and its rules, regulate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), including:

  • Where livestock facilities are located
  • Odors and air emissions of livestock operations
  • Management of nutrients, such as phosphorus that can pollute surface & groundwater
  • Facilities in which manure waste is stored
  • Management of runoff that can result from liquefied manure being applied to land

DATCP program manager Chris Clayton says the law is intended to balance public health while supporting animal agriculture. Critics view the law differently and say local governments should be able to regulate large farms. They worry about the impact these farms could have on their communties, such as the environment and public health.
Clayton says DATCP is revising the siting law to ensure consistent technical standards and improve local implementation.

Public hearings are a part of that revision process. So far, hearings have taken place in Oshkosh, Eau Claire, Wausau and Madison.

Credit WisconsinEye
While Jefferson County resident Vic Karaliunas applauded DATCP for holding hearings to give voice to what is going on in the state, he doesn't think CAFO regulations are stringent enough to protect the state's rivers and streams.

On Thursday in Madison, people from different parts of the state queued up to share their views. 

Vic Karaliunas lives near a CAFO in Jefferson County and told the DATCP team that he worries about its impacts to the watershed they share. "Buffers are absolutely critical to every operation out there, to keep the streams and local waterways cleaner than what they are right now," he said.

Green County resident Bethany Storm thinks the law should rely on local expertise, instead of treating Wisconsin’s varied landscape with one-size-fits-all regulations. "My local county land and water conservation staff know the landscape in Green County," she said. "They know that 95% of my town sits on karst rock over very little topsoil. They know that barnyards that were built straddling our trout streams have caused problems in the past. Wisconsin needs local control back."

Credit WisconsinEye
Ann Kieler of Platteville says her family is not a faceless, uncaring corporation. Kieler says she and her husband grew their farm to survive and support theirs and four other partnering families.

Most CAFOs are dairies and their numbers have swelled — from 90 two decades ago to over 300 today. As CAFOs have multiplied, so have concerns about their impact on air and water.

READ: Are Giant Dairy Farms Dangerous For Wisconsin's Waters?

Ann Kieler traveled from Platteville saying her family banded with four other families to keep their farm alive. "I am a farmer, I have a CAFO. We have grown and we have increased because that is what’s we need to do to stay viable to support our family. We do as good a job as we can possibly do. I am in favor of rules and regulations because I also want clean air and clean water," she said.

But Kieler says her family doesn’t need more regulations to farm responsibly.

More opportunities remain for the public to comment. Two more hearing are scheduled in Onalaska and Spooner; the comment period continues through September 13.

  • Send comments via email.
  • Comment online​.
  • Mail written comments to DATCP-ARM, P.O. Box 8911, Madison, WI 53708.

DATCP will present its final draft in November. Any modifications in the Livestock Facility Siting Law must be approved by the governor and the state legislature.
Audio courtesy of WisconsinEye.

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Susan is WUWM's environmental reporter.