Friday, April 28, 2017

Booming dairy industry in Wisconsin county causing concern that too many cattle hurts rural life

Kewaunee County, Wisconsin
 (Wikipedia map)
A thriving dairy industry in one Wisconsin county is causing a divide over whether too many cattle is hurting rural life, Lee Bergquist reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture says that since 1983, cattle numbers in Kewaunee County have increased 62 percent to 97,000, while statewide numbers have dropped 20 percent. But the increase in cattle also has led to concern about large-scale operations hurting small farmers, manure's effect on the environment, odors, pollution and increased truck traffic.

Department of Natural Resources data shows that Kewaunee County ranks third statewide with 16 mega-sized dairy farms, trailing only neighboring Brown County, 20, and Manitowoc, 18, Bergquist writes. "In Wisconsin, the number of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) has grown by 400 percent from 50 in 2000 to 252 in 2016, agency figures show, and has played a key role in growing milk production as farm numbers are falling." A report by University of Wisconsin-Madison economists "estimated that farms of 500 or more cows accounted for 40 percent of state milk production in 2013 compared to 22 percent in 2007."

For some, those numbers are out of control, Bergquist writes. Lee Luft, a retired executive and a member of the Kewaunee County Board who "said farming and water pollution have become inextricably tied in local politics," told Bergquist, "There’s simply too many cows."

Bergquist notes, "Kewaunee County’s three major rivers—the Ahnapee, East Twin and Kewaunee—all violate state standards for phosphorus pollution. Manure is a source of phosphorus. In excess, it promotes algae blooms. The rivers were placed on a state list of impaired waters in either 2014 or 2016."

"Alarmed by reports of polluted wells, Kewaunee County residents in 2015 voted overwhelming to support an ordinance restricting manure spreading in winter and early spring on fields with 20 feet or less of soil," Bergquist reports. "It was the first time a Wisconsin county took such action."

"CAFO critics wanted higher fees for big farms," Bergquist writes. "But Republican Gov. Scott Walker did not boost the fees in his budget, which is now before lawmakers. Walker did propose a study that could turn over regulation of CAFOs to the state agriculture department — a measure pushed by a farm group, the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, and opposed by environmental groups."

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