If dairy farmers have their way, large animal feedlots in Wisconsin will no longer be required to get state approval for their methods of collecting and storing cow manure before they begin operations. The Wisconsin Dairy Business Association is suing to end a requirement that the design and construction of manure storage systems must be approved by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
If the lawsuit is successful, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) would operate under county ordinances that are less strict than those of the state, and would not be required to undergo scrutiny unless it has already been demonstrated that manure waste from the feedlot had polluted local water sources, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.
Association members say the state rules are not only costly but illegal, claiming that ordering all CAFOs to obtain an operating permit surpasses federal requirements. An associate professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School said (via WPR.org) that a Court of Appeals decision in 2005 which overruled part of the EPA’s regulations for CAFOs could mean that the DNR can only regulate actual discharges, not anticipated ones.
The association disputes accusations that farmers are looking for a “free pass” on regulations. “We’re asking the DNR to follow the rules,” Mike North, president of the Dairy Business Association, said in a statement. “Farmers are not above the law. The Department of Natural Resources shouldn’t be either.”
The regulatory situation in Wisconsin bears watching in part because of the shifting agricultural landscape; while members of the association say the DNR is overstepping its boundaries, others say the DNR’s oversight doesn’t go far enough to protect the state’s heritage of family farming and environmental stewardship. “Our rural communities and family farmers are in the crosshairs of an expanding and increasingly powerful large-scale agricultural industry,” wrote Mary Dougherty, president of the Sustain Rural Wisconsin Network, in the Cap Times last week. Dougherty claims that Wisconsin is losing family dairy farmers at “an alarming rate,” and that a lack of oversight from the DNR is allowing “industrial factory farms” to proliferate.
In other dairy-farm related, agriculturally-focused, Wisconsin-based environmental news this week (no joke), we wrote about a new solution dairy farmers have found to rid themselves of the millions of pounds of plastic they generate each year. By nabbing a dumpster from Revolution Plastics, farmers in Wisconsin and Minnesota no longer have to choose between the lesser of three evils – paying to take it to a landfill, burying it on their own land, or burning it illegally – to dispose of their agricultural plastics. Farms that generate at least 2,000 pounds of plastic a year sign up for the program and receive dumpsters to keep onsite, determined by the size of their farms and the amount of plastics used. Revolution Plastics picks up the plastic waste as often as twice a month or as seldom as two or three times a year. The plastic is recycled and turned into garbage bin liners and other products.
And last week, the dairy farming industry received a call-to-action from a farmer in Oregon, encouraging the use of sustainable farming practices. “Every dairyman has to do this,” said Louie Kazemier, co-owner of Rickreall Dairy (via Capital Press). “We save money, it lowers costs of production, and it makes us more money…”
Rickreall Dairy recently won the national Outstanding Dairy Farm Sustainability Award for its measures that include:
- Partnering with a neighbor farm to send the dairy’s solid waste there as fertilizer for its crops, in exchange for feed;
- Collaborating with a local food processor to recycle water for irrigation;
- Allowing for transparency of its dairy by its open-door policy and by hosting guided tours;
- Working with 18 different government agencies and being inspected once a month.
The award is given for sustainable practices that include energy and water conservation, cow care, and nutrient management.