Farming moratoriums are misguided, bad public policy
Farming in Wisconsin is under attack. As the farm economy sputters, many families have sought to expand their businesses in hopes that they can achieve the margins they need to stay afloat.
As these farms grow larger, anti-farming environmental activists throughout Wisconsin have put them in the crosshairs. Over the past few years various places around the state have sought to impose moratoriums that prohibit farms from growing or new farms from coming into being. These moratoriums are misguided and bad public policy that harm farmers and our food supply.
Under state law, when an animal farm reaches 1,000 “animal units” it must go through certain permitting at the state level. Such farms are known by the regulatory term “CAFO” which stands for “concentrated animal feeding operation.” While anti-farming environmental activists are trying to denigrate CAFOs as “factory farms” that pollute the environment – the opposite is true. CAFOs are actually the safest, most heavily regulated farming units in Wisconsin.
Large animal farms are the only farms that are required to obtain a federal Clean Water Act permit, and are prohibited by law from discharging any wastewater. Not a drop. They are actually required by law to collect everything, even rain water that runs off a feed pile, and handle it according to stringent regulations to ensure it does not make its way into our waterways. Applying for such a permit can sometimes take years or more, and comes at significant expense. Smaller farms do not have such restrictions or permitting requirements.
Large farms are also required to abide by other strict regulatory standards such as when they can apply manure to their fields to ensure protection of surrounding waterways. Unless they are receiving cost-sharing subsidies from state taxpayers, smaller farms are not required to abide by the same strict regulations that larger farms are and are mostly free to spread manure whenever is convenient for them.
We are, of course, not saying that small farms are bad for the environment. On the contrary, all farmers are environmental stewards. The land is their livelihood, protecting it is core to their very existence. As a matter of regulatory policy though, state law imposes these requirements almost exclusively on larger farms, while smaller farms are largely left unregulated.
Despite the increased regulations, some local governments are looking to appease anti-farming environmental activists by imposing moratoriums on CAFOs. Such moratoriums are likely illegal as a matter of law, and are also terrible public policy.
They are illegal because local governments lack the authority to impose such moratoriums. They are bad public policy because they restrict farmers’ abilities to run their business and compete in a global economy.
The economy will always have its ups and downs. For some farmers, taking on an added regulatory burden to grow their farm makes sense. For others, it will not. There is no one size fits all business model, and government should not be trying to create one through the implementation of moratoriums.
So, the next time you hear someone trying to run down our hardworking farmers, tell them enough is enough. Wisconsin’s farm families have enough uncertainty to keep them up at night, they do not need their neighbors attacking them, too.
Jarchow is an attorney, small business owner, and former State Representative, who resides in northwest Wisconsin, while Vebber is an attorney with the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty who resides in southeast Wisconsin.