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Larson Acres in holding pattern

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ANN MARIE AMES
November 13, 2009
— Few members of the public spoke for or against a proposed expansion of Rock County's largest dairy herd during a public hearing held Thursday night by the Magnolia Town Board.

Most of the discussion during the three-hour meeting took place between attorneys, experts and town officials.


The three-member town board did not take action after the public hearing. The board could do so at a Dec. 17 meeting. At that time, the board expects to have a draft list of possible conditions and answers to some questions posed by a soils expert working as a consultant for the town.


UW-Stevens Point professor emeritus Byron Shaw is a professional soil scientist and soil hydrologist, and his job is to make sure the application meets the state's livestock siting law, he said.


Larson Acres attorney Eric McLeod and others in the audience said the town was seeking to duplicate work done by scientists and the Department of Natural Resources.


"There's a presumption that all of the experts are somehow incapable of understanding how to do what they do," McLeod said.


Board member Kurt Bartlett disagreed, saying the town board needed to be familiar with the complicated law and application.


"We need to have an understanding and feel comfortable with what's going on," Bartlett said.


The town on Wednesday received an updated copy of the farm's nutrient management plan, and board members had not had time to read it thoroughly, board member David Olson said.


In July, Larson Acres submitted an application to build a $12.8 million expansion at their home farm at 18218 W. Highway 59, Evansville. The project would double the farm's herd to 5,275 Holsteins. Currently the farm raises 2,668 animals between the home farm and a heifer facility at 17162 W. County B, Brodhead.


Larson Acres will continue to milk cows in the facilities it already has on Highway 59, spokesman Mike Larson said before the hearing. Barns and a second milking parlor will be built along the west side of the farm.


Larson Acres has been participating in a UW-Madison Discovery Farms nutrient management study. In the spring, the farm will switch from spreading liquid manure stored in lagoons on the farm to spreading liquid and solid manure that's been separated by two on-farm wastewater treatment facilities, Larson said.


The equipment already is running and the process is being tested, Larson said. This year, the farm will spread the rest of the manure it has in storage, he said.


Avoiding liquid manure storage will reduce the amount of odor that would be created in a conventional system, Larson said.


The town planning commission on Oct. 8 recommended the town board approve the application.


The commission's vote suggested the board consider requiring the farm to test surface water in two nearby creeks as well as in a small number of private wells located downhill from the farm. It also suggested requiring landscaping on a berm between the farm and its neighbor to the north.


Board members and town attorney Glenn Reynolds on Thursday focused on questions about surface water and groundwater testing. Reynolds said the only way to know if nutrients were being applied properly was to test the water below and near the farm fields.


Jim Leverich, the on-farm research coordinator for Discovery Farms, disagreed. Testing outflow is appropriate in a laboratory setting, but a farm field has too many variables, he said.


"In a field setting, it's less accurate," Leverich said. "It's easier to use the technology and adapt it and measure what you're doing up front."



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