CAFO Study Committee discusses livestock siting standards

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By Ted Pennekamp


Roth Feeder Pigs near Wauzeka is considering expanding their concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO). Owner A.V. Roth has not yet applied for a livestock siting permit from Crawford County, but he did state his side of the controversial issue at the standing room only December County Board meeting at which the county approved a one-year moratorium on permit applications.

The moratorium was approved in order to study the issue further. The moratorium also gave various organizations more time to find scientific evidence that could possibly be used to try to make the county’s livestock siting ordinance more stringent than the state’s.

A seven-person CAFO Study Committee was formed which will meet approximately once a month. At its March 11 meeting, the committee heard a presentation from representatives of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) about the state’s livestock siting law as well as county and township ordinances regarding livestock siting, licensing and zoning pertaining to CAFOs.

Jennifer Heaton-Amrhein told the committee that Wisconsin’s siting law was passed in 2004 and went into effect in 2006.

Heaton-Amrhein said the state’s livestock siting law was designed to provide for uniform local regulation for new and expanding livestock facilities and directs DATCP to create a rule specifying the standards, review the rules at least once every four years (last review was in 2018), and to weigh eight criteria in the statute. 

The eight criteria include:

•Protective of public health and safety

•Practicable and workable



•Based on scientific information

•Viability of animal agriculture

•Usable by local officials

•Designed to balance economic viability of farm operations with protecting natural resources and community interests.

The state siting law also allows the adoption of more stringent standards by local entities such as county boards when the more stringent standards are “necessary to protect public health or safety.”

Local entities such as counties or townships can regulate CAFOs through local planning and zoning  or through permitting of livestock facilities, said Heaton-Amrhein.

She also said local ordinances can exclude or cap the size of a livestock operation if:

•Another ag district (e.g. A-1) allows livestock operations of all sizes

•Exclusion is based on reasonable and scientifically defensible findings of fact necessary to protect public health and safety.

Heaton-Amrhein said there were 134 local ordinances regarding CAFOs in 53 counties as of March 11. Twenty-six counties have ordinances, 99 towns, two cities, and seven villages throughout the state. Zoning is used more than licensing. Eighty percent of permits are issued by counties.

Crawford County adopted its livestock siting licensing ordinance in August of 2006. There have been two permits issued by the county since that time. One was for a dairy farm and the other was for Roth Feeder Pigs.

Heaton-Amrhein said there are two types permits. One permit, the CAFO permit, is issued by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. The other permit is a licensing permit issued by the local entity, such as Crawford County.

Numerous other topics (a few examples being setbacks, nutrient management plans and manure storage) were discussed regarding CAFOs by Heaton-Amrhein and the members of the Crawford County CAFO Committee during the meeting on March 11.

She said more stringent local standards can be implemented only if they are adopted in the ordinance, they are based on scientifically defensible findings of fact, and if they are justified by public health and safety.

Examples of more stringent local standards enacted in Wisconsin include Trempealeau County, Marathon County, Green County, the town of Lamartine in Fond du Lac County, and the town of York in Green County. Kewaunee County enacted more stringent standards via other authorities, not through a livestock siting ordinance.

The above examples of more stringent standards have not been reviewed, approved or denied by DATCP or the Livestock Facility Siting Review Board. The Livestock Facility Siting Review Board is a seven member board that can provide an alternative to the courts. The board can review more stringent local standards. Reviews can be requested by the permit applicant and those who live within two miles of the CAFO.

Heaton-Amrhein said the examples of more stringent standards listed above have not been challenged yet, and therefore, it is not known if they would hold up in court.

Heaton-Amrhein suggested to the Crawford County CAFO Committee that if they decide to try to get the county to adopt more stringent standards than the state, specific local testing and results need to be obtained.

There is a well testing program that is expected to get underway soon in Crawford, Vernon and Richland counties, but that program was not started because of concerns about any CAFOs. It is not known if the results of the well testing will yield any scientifically defensible finding of fact that might be used as a way to make Crawford County’s siting standards more stringent.

Following the CAFO Study Committee meeting, Crawford County Conservationist Dave Troester said Crawford County has no other tests or studies underway, nor is the county expected to in the near future. Troester did say, however, that there is stream water quality testing being conducted that is associated with the Crawford Stewardship Project, an area environmental organization.

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