The attention surrounding Kewaunee County's permitted Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) prompted the scheduling of a breakout session during the 61st annual conference of the Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association.
Presenters at that session were the county's land and water conservation department director Andy Wallander and Jen Keuning, an environmental scientist at the Green Bay office of Conestega-Rovers & Associates (CRA), which is an agricultural services consulting firm that was established in 1976 and has a current workforce of 3,000 at 90 offices. Keuning is a former University of Wisconsin Extension Service dairy and livestock agent in Kewaunee County.
Wallander reported that Kewaunee County has 15 dairy operations plus one beef feedlot with CAFO permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Nine of the county's 10 townships have at least one such permit. Neighboring Brown County has 20 such permits for dairy operations, which is the most for any county in the state.
Kewaunee County's CAFO permits cover 51,379 animal units (a unit is 1,000 pounds of live weight). Wallander noted that requests or proposals for an additional 45,604 units are in the pipeline. The animal unit count includes all cattle on a farm — milking cows, heifers, and calves.
If the site has only milking cows, then a herd of just over 700 cows needs a CAFO permit. With some of the CAFO units having thousands of cows, it is likely that they account for more than 50 percent of the dairy cows in Kewaunee County, which has one of the highest ratios of dairy cows to land area anywhere.
Keuning reported that 21 percent of the dairy cows in Wisconsin are housed at CAFO sites. From 1944 to the present, the number of dairy farms in Wisconsin has fallen from nearly 150,000 to approximately 10,500, she added.
According to Wisconsin's agricultural statistics official report, Kewaunee County had approximately 42,000 dairy cows on 187 farms as of April 1, 2013. With the DNR's formula of 1.4 animal units for each milking cow, the county's dairy cows would account for 58,800 animal units.
The waste produced by one animal unit is the equivalent of that for 18 humans, Wallander stated. This means that the county's 51,379 animal units in the permitted CAFOs alone are producing the waste equivalent of 924,882 humans, he pointed out.
Of the county's 137,542 cropland acres, 36,239 (slightly over 26 percent) are in a nutrient management plan that is required of all CAFO permittees, Wallander indicated. The CAFOs are applying more than 340 million gallons of liquid manure and 81,332 tons of solid manure to cropland per year, he reported.
Manure applications are governed in large part by the 590 standards set by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Wallander observed. He noted that county land and water conservation departments do not play a lead role in CAFO projects.
In Wallander's view, it's the liquid manure applications are the major cause of problems that have prompted public concerns. He noted that karst landscape features (shallow soil and fractured bedrock) have been associated with cases of polluted wells within the county.
Opposition to the granting of new CAFO permits or renewing existing ones has come from the public and some organizations several times in Kewaunee County. The most recent case, which was a request for an expansion of animal units, led to a four-day hearing before a judge in Green Bay. A ruling is expected by September.
Wallander reviewed the list of concerns that have come from the public regarding CAFOs. They include contamination of ground and surface water, air quality degradation, emission of greenhouse gases, the creation of unpleasant odors, damage to roadways, a spoiling of visual aesthetics, reduction of property values, the spreading of pathogens, the development of antibiotic resistance, and the issue of family versus corporate owned and operated farms.
When those concerns are raised and conflict breaks out, "be prepared for a circus," Wallander advised. He listed the circus performers as local citizens, state agencies, environmental groups, agricultural organizations, attorneys, holders of political office, and the print and television media.
To prevent at least a portion of the potential conflict, Wallander prescribes pre-expansion meetings that would involve representatives of the farm, private consultants, the county's land and water conservation department and Extension Service agricultural agent, town and county zoning officials, and the agricultural runoff management specialist from the DNR's regional office.
Those meetings should cover the state's agricultural runoff requirements, the town and county zoning, setbacks, permits, ordinances, DNR stormwater runoff permits, erosion control practices at the construction site, traffic patterns for serving the site, the CAFO permit application process, and local attitudes and perceptions, Wallander stated.
Keuning pointed out that CRA is in business to provide such services to the extent that the client needs them for the project to proceed. She noted that the firm has overseen thousands of such projects in more than 60 countries and hundreds in the United States for services on design, permitting, and regulatory compliance.
At the front end, the planning process considers the goals and how to achieve them, including the use of new technology, Keuning indicated. The next steps are site selection and evaluation and consideration of the regulations from local to federal, she stated.
Engineering services and construction plans are designed to provide 100 percent containment of manure on the site, Keuning remarked. Any practices or facilities going beyond what the regulations call for would be at an additional cost to the client, she indicated.
Keuning outlined the diversity of services that CRA carried out for the New Chester Dairy near Grand Marsh. It is owned by Milk Source Holdings of Kaukauna.
The services can include public education and outreach on a project, oversight on on-going compliance, and the adoption of innovative technology, Keuning noted. She can be contacted by phone at 920-490-1663 or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.