Dairy permit OK'd

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Thursday, March 10, 2011
— The Bradford Town Board on Wednesday granted Rock Prairie Dairy one of the key permits the farm needs to house 5,200 cows at Highway 14 and Scharine Road in far eastern Rock County.

But the town of Bradford as well as the state of Wisconsin and at least two other Rock County towns are taking a close look at the dairy's plans to apply watered-down manure through center-pivot irrigators onto growing crops.

The town board Wednesday unanimously approved a conditional-use permit for the dairy farm itself. The vote followed a unanimous recommendation from the town's planning and zoning commission.

The permit has 13 conditions that reiterate the need for the farm to operate under state regulations. The state livestock siting law bans municipalities from creating ordinances that are more restrictive than state regulations.

The permit does not have any authority over the 10 wastewater irrigators that are part of the proposal. The town could change its zoning ordinance to regulate such manure-application systems, town attorney Dave Moore said.

The board and planning commission reviewed a draft ordinance change Moore wrote as an example and voted to table the change until members can learn more about the issue.

"We just feel we need more information," plan commission Chairman Leland Peich said.

The draft amendment regulates, rather than bans, center-pivot application. The town could decide on a case-by-case basis if or how other producers could use irrigators to apply manure to fields, Moore said.

The town of Johnstown in January voted to ban center-pivot waste application. Johnstown is just north of Bradford, and some of Rock Prairie Dairy's proposed pivots are in Johnstown Township.

The town of Harmony, which is between Johnstown and the city of Janesville, this week directed Moore to draft a zoning ordinance amendment prohibiting center-pivot manure application, Moore said.

No pivots are proposed in Harmony Township.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources continues to study the center-pivot proposal, wastewater engineer Mark Cain said. Such systems are common in the West but are rare in Wisconsin.

Nebraska dairy farmer Todd Tuls has applied for several DNR permits. The most detailed is the state's wastewater permit, which acts as the state's operating permit for large livestock facilities.

Tuls can break ground before he gets that permit, but he can't operate without it.

The DNR plans to meet with Tuls and his staff as well as representatives from the Wisconsin Department of Health to talk about possible risks to human health from the center pivots, DNR wastewater engineer Mark Cain said. Cain wants to gather information about those risks before the DNR hosts a public hearing for the wastewater permit, he said.

There is no rush to permit the sprayers, because the farm won't spread manure for at least a year, Cain said.

Tuls plans to break ground soon and could have the farm built this fall, according to DNR documents. He could move some cows from Nebraska and start milking them by the end of the year, he has said. Manure would be stored until spring.

If Tuls were not able to use center pivots, he could still operate his farm, he said at Wednesday's meeting. He would use dragline systems to inject liquid manure into the soil in the spring and fall as well as spread some manure solids in the fall.

He already plans to use these two methods in addition to the center pivots. If he couldn't use pivots, Tuls would need to add some acreage to his nutrient-management plan to spread manure. He already has contracts with landowners on more acres than he needs in his current plan, he said.

The farm would take up 160 acres and include six large barns as well as storage for 80 million gallons of waste.

Last updated: 4:46 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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