Laketown, Wisconsin, is a rural group of 949 folks, unfold out among the many inexperienced fields and ample lakes of the state’s northwestern nook, simply over an hour exterior of Minneapolis. Lisa Doerr has lived there since 2001, when she and her husband began rising hay and grass for livestock and elevating horses. The city and its surrounding space, the St. Croix River Valley, are dwelling to a number of small farmers like them; a lot of the meals folks eat right here is grown domestically.

“It’s not an enormous company place,” Doerr stated. “There’s lots to guard right here.”

Now, Laketown is on the middle of a battle over this rural character, because the city goals to restrict air pollution from massive, industrial livestock farms, also referred to as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Over the previous few months, Laketown and two close by towns, Trade Lake and Eureka, have handed legal guidelines regulating how CAFOs can function, requiring them to point out how they may get rid of useless animals and keep away from polluting groundwater. But these insurance policies have confronted stiff pushback from the state’s highly effective agricultural foyer, which has known as the brand new regulations unlawful.

In the previous decade, the industrialization of agriculture has led to a pointy rise within the variety of CAFOs, as massive livestock operations provide cheaper meat and crowd out smaller farmers. Between 2012 and 2017, the variety of animals residing on manufacturing facility farms grew by 14 p.c, at the same time as the general variety of operations shrank. From North Carolina to Iowa, CAFOs have been discovered to pollute ingesting water, launch noxious gases, and encourage the unfold of illness as a result of animals’ confined situations. In March, a nationwide outbreak of avian flu led an egg farm in Wisconsin to kill 2.7 million chickens, creating insupportable smells for a group downwind of the location the place their our bodies had been dumped.

Even when CAFOs legally get rid of animal waste — often by spreading it on close by fields as fertilizer — the sheer quantity of manure can overload native streams and groundwater provides with nitrates and micro organism, stated Adam Voskuil, a Wisconsin-based lawyer with the nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates. That’s particularly problematic in states like Wisconsin, the place more than 900,000 residents depend on personal wells for their ingesting water.

“There’s a well being concern related to that aggregation of contaminants and its transport into personal households,” Voskuil stated.

Aerial view of a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) in Wisconsin. Large windowless buildings, waste lagoons, and barns are visible

Aerial view of a concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, in Wisconsin.
Grist / Amelia Bates

In mild of those dangers, Polk County — the place Laketown is situated — enacted a one-year moratorium on CAFOs in 2019 to offer it time to review the issue and develop an answer. The challenge grew more pressing after an Iowa-based firm announced plans to construct a hog farm in close by Trade Lake, which might home 26,000 pigs and produce 9 million gallons of waste every year. In 2021, Laketown and 5 different communities shaped the Large Livestock Town Partnership to analysis potential issues with CAFOs and develop a mannequin ordinance that particular person towns might undertake to control them.

The ordinance requires livestock operations with more than 700 animal models to use for a allow from the city and pay an software payment. The proprietor has to share the power’s plans to forestall the unfold of infectious illnesses, implement a waste administration technique, include poisonous air air pollution and odors, report uncommon animal deaths, preserve hearth security, and keep away from damaging any close by water sources, in addition to exhibit that the venture will present a web profit to the city. The software needs to be signed by a minimum of one “certified and professionally licensed” engineer or geoscientist who has reviewed the proposal.

Since Laketown handed its ordinance in February and two different towns adopted in March, their efforts have confronted stiff resistance. On April 13, two dairy lobbying teams wrote a letter to the  Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, or DATCP, asking the state to evaluation the ordinances and arguing that the “towns have clearly ignored present legal guidelines, regulations and associated evaluation and approval processes.” And late final month, two different dairy associations — Venture Dairy Cooperative and the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance — wrote to Laketown straight, telling the city clerk that the CAFO ordinance “incorporates a minimum of 16 provisions which are preempted by state legislation and unlawful,” together with imposing charges and requiring plans for odor prevention.

In a press release, DATCP spokesperson Sam Otterson stated the division is “gathering data and figuring out the problems so {that a} authorized evaluation can decide the scope of Department authority and obligation below relevant legislation and code provisions.”

At the center of the battle is a 2004 legislation that stops native governments from enacting stricter regulations for CAFOs than the state requirements, which require CAFOs to submit “nutrient administration plans” to point out how they’ll get rid of their waste, set minimal “setbacks” or distances between these amenities and close by properties, and set up requirements for manure storage. If amenities meet these standards, towns are required to challenge them permits.

Though the legislation permits exceptions if native governments can “clearly present that the necessities are wanted to guard public well being or security,” Doerr, who chaired the Large Livestock Town Partnership, stated the brand new ordinances don’t regulate the place CAFOs are sited — solely how they function. Requiring them to have a plan to reduce air air pollution, guarantee hearth security, and cope with biohazards comparable to an avian flu outbreak is a part of the towns’ police powers and needed to guard residents, she and others have argued.

Lisa Doerr stands in a hay field in Wisconsin.

Lisa Doerr grows livestock feed and raises horses on her farm in Laketown, Wisconsin.
Lisa Doerr

“We have attorneys which have checked out [the ordinance],” stated Don Anderson, chair of the Eureka city board. “They helped us formulate it, and are fairly assured that it’s throughout the legislation.”

Wisconsin isn’t the one state the place native governments are dealing with off towards industry-friendly state regulations for CAFOs. In Missouri, the place an industrial hog farm spilled more than 300,000 gallons of waste into native streams final spring, a 2019 legislation bars counties from issuing guidelines for CAFOs that differ from the state’s insurance policies in any approach. Two counties sued to problem the legislation, which is headed to the state Supreme Court.

All 50 states have handed some type of “right-to-farm” legal guidelines, which shield livestock operations from being sued over “nuisances” like odors or air pollution. And inside Wisconsin, state officers are combating to control CAFOs even below the scope of their present authority. Late final month, one of many state’s largest dairy farms sued the state Department of Natural Resources for denying its request to just about double in dimension.

For Doerr and different Laketown residents, authorized threats are a consequence of difficult the agricultural {industry}, which they are saying shouldn’t be held accountable for its influence on well being and the setting.

“It’s just about our life’s work that we have now invested on this farm,” Doerr stated. “And we actually aren’t going to sit down right here and have them inform us that they’re going to usher in some big firms and put a CAFO on the finish of our driveway.”


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