OPINION  It’s difficult not to be caught in the busyness of our daily routine. Often the tyranny of the urgent is what grabs our attention. But something is happening in Madison, Wisconsin, that’s urgent. It needs the immediate attention of the farming community.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has proposed revising the Livestock Facility Siting rule. The department’s recommendations to its Board of Directors are based on a multi-year study by a panel of experts, none of whom were from production agriculture.

After reviewing the proposed changes and seeking legal interpretation, Wisconsin Farm Bureau is concerned about the impacts the proposal will have on Wisconsin livestock farmers.

There are three sections of the rule that are most concerning.

  • Odor scoring is to be replaced with extreme setbacks from property lines.
  • Another regulation would be added for nutrient management.
  • Compliance-monitoring authority would be delegated to local governments.

The setbacks proposed in the revised rule will severely limit where livestock expansions could take place and where new livestock farms may be established. There has been no primary research to show that what is proposed would be practical, workable or cost effective. No primary research shows that what is proposed would promote the growth of animal agriculture or would balance the economic viability of farms with protecting natural resources.

The issue should concern any livestock farmer anticipating expansion, or passing his or her business on to a future generation. It’s also an issue for those who hope the market value of their operation remains strong should they choose to sell in the future.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources already has stringent nutrient-management and water-protection requirements for large livestock operations. Those are in addition to federal regulations, making livestock farms some of the most regulated businesses in our state. Additional requirements from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection would only cause contradiction to what is already required – and would create an additional financial burden. Farmers are willing to do what is right for their family, farm and the environment. But solutions need to be practical, workable and cost-effective.

The original purpose for the Livestock Facility Siting law, which was approved in 2003, was to eliminate the patchwork of local regulations. Those regulations had created pockets around the state where farmers were not welcome to expand their businesses. The Livestock Facility Siting law currently requires the department to monitor farms for compliance. It also offers local governments some opportunity to provide additional guidance in the siting and expansion of livestock operations.

The Farm Bureau believes that returning to individual local governments monitoring compliance will only prove to stifle growth. That would negatively affect the health of our rural economy.

Wisconsin agriculture needs farmers to be the voice of reason for livestock agriculture. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation is asking producers to take a stand by emailing or writing a comment to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Board. There are many voices out there actively working against agriculture in our state. Now is the time when the voices supporting agriculture need to be heard.

The department is accepting comments on the rule through Sept. 13. Comment via email at livestocksitingcomments@wisconsin.gov or mail comments to DATCP-ARM, P.O. Box 8911, Madison WI 53708. Visit docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/feedback/agencyform?cite=cr/2019/98 to leave comments online.

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Debi Towns is Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s senior director of governmental relations. Visit wfbf.com for more information.