Door County committee hears concerns of manure handling, clean water

Wisconsin State Farmer
Manure is a pollutant when it seeps into wells, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

STURGEON BAY - Concerns about the environment and the future of small farms were expressed at a meeting last week of the Door County Land Conservation Committee.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources held a hearing last week in Green Bay on proposed state regulations (NR151) concerning the spreading manure on croplands in karst regions.

Large areas of Door, Kewaunee and eastern Brown counties are considered a karst region. The most common characteristics of the ground in the area are thin layers of topsoil atop fractured limestone.

Water, including liquefied manure, quickly reach deep underground to the aquifer where homes in the region obtain their drinking water.

In Kewaunee County, where cows outnumber humans by a 5-to-1 ratio,studies have show at least 30 percent of the wells are contaminated with bacteria associated with cow manure.

However, substantial areas of Door County are karst regions, more so in the northern part of the county.

At present, the NR 151 regulations treat all of Wisconsin as a single soil type.

In recent years the Door County Soil and Water Conservation Department has worked with state Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, to have the state recognize the need for different regulations in the karst region in northeastern Wisconsin.

The existing NR 151 requires concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) to adhere to stricter regulations in manure handling than smaller so-called family farms.

The changes proposed would tighten the restrictions on manure spreading by small farms, which could force them out of business, said Mike Vandenhouten, Brussels-area farmer and committee member.

A large number of farmers have spoken to him. “They say, 'maybe its time to get out of farming and rent my land to a bigger farmer.'”

The small farmers don't have a public relations representative, Vandenhouten said. “They're not going to appear (at meetings) and get beat up over clean water.”

Of the nearly 20 people attending Thursday's meeting, some spoke of the need for more restrictions on spreading manure, pushing for alternatives to waste disposal.

“Aerobic composting,” suggested Bill Iwen, a retired Algoma dentist. “It's a win-win for the environment and it's a win-win for the people who want clean potable water.”

The committee reviewed a draft of a letter Soil and Water Department Director Erin Hanson proposed to send to the DNR commenting on the proposed regulation changes.

However, members declined to endorse the letter, suggesting the need for more assurances that farmers could receive funding to comply with the changes as proposed.

Hanson said the revised letter would reach the DNR before the agency's Oct. 4 deadline for comments.