UPDATED: Controversial livestock facility siting rule goes to state ag board

Updated at 1:30 p.m. on September 17, 2019

The Brillion News

MADISON — Several groups representing aspects of Wisconsin’s livestock agriculture industry called on Monday for the state Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to reject proposed changes to rules that regulate local approval of new or expanding livestock farms.

But the changes are supported by other interests, including environmental groups who believe the current state administrative code is ineffective in protecting ground and surface waters from pollution.

The Board has the matter on its agenda for its September 19 meeting in Madison.

The proponent groups said that the changes to state administrative code rule ATCP 51 would damage farmers, forcing some out of business, and harm other supporting businesses, from agricultural consultants and supply cooperatives to manufacturers of animal feed and health products.

“The negative impacts of the proposed rule revisions — which will without a doubt stymie further growth of livestock agriculture in Wisconsin — will be felt not just by livestock producers,” the 11 groups said in jointly written comments. “Left unchanged, this proposed rule could negatively affect hundreds of thousands of jobs in this state.”

Those agriculture industry groups convened a press conference calling for the DATCP Board to reject proposed changes to rules that regulate local approval of new or expanding livestock farms.

But on Tuesday, the Wisconsin Farmers Union expressed disappointment at these groups’ defense of the status quo, as well as their call to diminish local control over large livestock operations.

In a joint statement, the industry groups said that “the negative impacts of the proposed rule revisions – which will without a doubt stymie further growth of livestock agriculture in Wisconsin – will be felt not just by livestock producers.”

Wisconsin Farmers Union President Darin Von Ruden refuted that message and pointed to the big picture of what is happening in Wisconsin agriculture.

“We’ve already got an oversupply problem in the dairy industry,” said Darin Von Ruden, president of Wisconsin Farmers Union. “Further expansion of our biggest farms is like throwing gasoline on a fire.”

In 2018, Wisconsin lost nearly 700 dairy herds, according to DATCP. The Farmers Union said much of the volatility that is driving farms out of business can be traced back to oversupply of milk that is outpacing profitable demand.

ATCP 51 was originally adopted as a bipartisan compromise between Republicans, Democrats, and other key players to strike a fair and balanced agreement between Wisconsin agriculture’s push to maintain its position as the Dairy State and local governments’ concern that they had available the tools necessary to oversee Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) entering their communities. More than a decade later, despite significant advances in science and even more significant advances in technology, livestock siting standards have remained unchanged.

The DATCP Board is scheduled to get an update on the hearings at a meeting on September 19.

The opposing groups’ concerns range from the process DATCP used to develop the proposal, including disregarding or excluding farmers’ input, to drastic changes to setbacks that they think would be unworkable in rural Wisconsin.

The organizations opposing the proposed rule changes are Cooperative Network, Dairy Business Association, FS GROWMARK, Wisconsin Association of Professional Agricultural Consultants, Wisconsin Cattlemen’s Association, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, Wisconsin Dairy Products Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Wisconsin Pork Association.

Wisconsin’s livestock siting law, signed in 2004, provides consistent, statewide standards and procedures for local governments to regulate the construction of new or expanding livestock facilities over a certain size if they choose to do so.

Rules to implement the law were written by the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. Those rules became known as ATCP 51 and took effect in 2006. They set standards for siting new facilities in areas of the state zoned for agricultural uses, and on livestock operations expected to house more than 500 animal units. (An animal unit is defined as 1,000 pounds of animal weight. So, while a single grown cow would be considered more than one animal unit, it would take a small flock of chickens to equate one animal unit.)

The rules do not require that all livestock facilities be sited. Instead, for local government units that choose to regulate construction of livestock facilities, it creates consistent standards that must be used in approving or denying applications.

Environmental groups, including Midwest Environmental Advocates, say the amended rule is needed because the current rule doesn’t protect ground water sufficiently.

DATCP is required to appoint a technical committee to conduct a review of ATCP 51 every four years.

“The Committee’s efforts are an important acknowledgement of the need for the Siting Law to better address current public health and water quality issues,” Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) said in a statement on their website. “Revisions to the law are necessary to formally adopt the latest technical and nutrient management standards, include improved setback requirements, and address odor implications resulting from current industrial livestock practices.”

The group said that the current rule isn’t protecting the rural environment from industrial farming operations.

“A one-size-fits-all approach to licensing livestock facilities isn’t working for rural communities, especially those facing real health threats of decreasing air quality, contamination of drinking wells, degraded streams from manure runoff, and increased truck traffic hauling manure to fields, “ MEA said. “The siting law’s application process takes away the traditional local authority to govern land use for unique, local conditions and to set local rules where state law is silent.”

~ Sources: Dairy Business Association, Midwest Environmental Advocates and Wisconsin Farmers Union.

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