Dairy proposal draws questions from locals

Print Print
Sunday, January 30, 2011
— Most Rock County residents have never seen a farm with 5,200 cows.

It’s no wonder people have questions about how such a facility would affect the community.

Topics of the questions range from the environment to the economy to human health.

Nebraska dairy farmer Todd Tuls in March plans to break ground on a 160-acre dairy farm on Highway 14 between Janesville and the Walworth County line. The farm would be the biggest in Rock or Walworth counties and the fourth-biggest in the state.

The town of Bradford, Rock County and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources each has a list of permits that Tuls must get to operate.

He could break ground before receiving all the permits.

Here are questions and concerns gathered from those sent to the Gazette, the DNR and a group of local residents opposed to Tuls’ plan:

Q: Don’t confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, such as the proposed Rock Prairie Dairy increase the danger of antibiotic, hormone or pathogen contamination in local groundwater?

A: No standards are in place to regulate antibiotics or hormones that could be released from large farms, according to the DNR’s environmental analysis of the proposed dairy.

Such contamination is a growing health concern recognized by many U.S. agencies, the analysis states.

The DNR permit that Tuls needs to operate prohibits any water discharge from the facility.

Q: Won’t that many cows smell bad?

A: The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection regulates odors in the state. Odors are monitored only at the facility itself, not in the fields where manure is applied.

Tuls is proposing to cover his manure lagoons, which would significantly reduce odor emissions, the analysis states. He has contracted more than 5,000 acres to apply waste by knifing it into the soil, spreading it on top of the soil and spraying it through center-pivot irrigators onto growing crops.

Because center-pivot application is uncommon in Wisconsin, Tuls has reduced the number of center pivots in his plan from 16 to 10. More could be added in the future, although he would have to apply for the change, said environmental engineer Jennifer Keunig, who has worked on the design plans for the facility.

Q: Local farms already are going out of business at a fast pace. How will those remaining compete with Tuls’ buying power?

A: Here’s how the DNR’s environmental assessment responds:

“The socio-economic issues are difficult to quantify, and there is significant disagreement as to the validity of these concerns.”

In other words, it’s hard to prove exactly why small farms go out of business.

It’s a common concern among Gazette readers, but experts interviewed by the Gazette said it shouldn’t be.

The addition of Rock Prairie Dairy would help support the local milk processing infrastructure, said Randy Thompson, UW Extension dairy and livestock agent. Farms that choose to stay small would not be in direct competition with Tuls and would use different production methods to profit, said Bob Cropp, UW-Madison dairy economist.

Q: Doesn’t Wisconsin’s Livestock Siting Law take away local control?

A: Yes. The goal was to keep things consistent for producers so that the rules were the same no matter where a new or expanded farm is located, said Cheryl Daniels, the attorney for the Wisconsin Livestock Siting Board.

The state requires local governments to use the law “if they choose to require conditional-use or other permits for siting new and expanded livestock operations,” according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection website.

The town of Bradford in October 2006 adopted the state of Wisconsin’s livestock siting law as the town’s ordinance.

When the state created the law, towns were mandated to adopt it in order to be involved in the permitting process, Bradford Town Board Chairman Ron Duffy said.

If a town didn’t adopt the law, the state would handle its applications.

Duffy and others have said that people who oppose—or support—the livestock siting law should communicate those opinions to their state legislators.

Q: How can the DNR move this project forward at the same time it’s trying to reduce phosphorous and sediment loads in the Rock River and Turtle Creek?

A: The DNR is wrapping up work on a study about the amount of phosphorous and sediment the Rock River can hold and still remain healthy—referred to as “total maximum daily load.” The project will create a “pollution budget” for the Rock River basin, which covers nearly 3,800 square miles of southcentral Wisconsin.

Turtle Creek flows two miles southwest of the proposed farm site, which is located within the Rock River Basin.

The DNR permit that Tuls needs to operate prohibits any discharge from the production facility and requires practices that would reduce the risk of runoff from fields where manure is spread, according to the DNR’s environmental analysis of the project.

Tuls has contracted more than 5,000 acres of fields to dispose of manure. Those fields currently would be treated with commercial fertilizer. The manure will replace that fertilizer.

Erosion could be reduced by 20 percent in some of the fields because they are not currently part of a nutrient management plan such as the one Tuls uses, the analysis states.

The reduction would come from the addition of cover crops or the use of alternative soil tilling methods, the analysis states.

“In many cases, the net nutrient application will not change,” the analysis states, “only the type of fertilizer.”

Last updated: 3:57 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

Print Print