The talk vs. the truth...stop telling only half of dairy's story
Wisconsin’s dairy farmers have plenty of issues they should be focusing on: daily on-farm business, global trade wars, historically wet weather, unfavorable prices...just to name a few.
Sloppy journalism shouldn’t be one of them.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to ignore the recently published Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, headlined “Growing Concerns: Industrial dairy farming is taking over in Wisconsin crowding out family operations and raising environmental concerns.” In their latest screed, reporters Lee Bergquist and Rick Barrett set aside objectivity, yet again, to paint a caustic portrait of our state’s evolving dairy sector.
The duo wants to discuss the evolving face of “America’s Dairyland,” but repeatedly undermine their credibility by ignoring or slanting data to give only half a story.
Consider just a few examples:
- Contrary to the headline, our state’s large farms, often called “CAFOs,” are family owned. Incorporation is merely a business structure that helps ensure the enterprise can be passed from one generation to the next.
Incorporation is fundamentally the opposite of “crowding out” the future generation. It’s making sure our sons and daughters have farms to which they can return.
- While the article credits large cities for using sewage systems to remove contaminants from human waste, it entirely ignores the fact that those same cities legally pour hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated human septic annually into Midwest waterways as post-storm “controlled releases.”
In May, for instance, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District reported 281 million gallons in sewer overflows during its first major rain event. This would be equivalent to over 40,000 tanker loads of manure, yet it went unreported by Bergquist and Barrett. But the pair made sure to highlight a manure spill that killed 40 fish in Fond du Lac County in August 2018. Go figure?
- The article points to a 2018 Juneau County lawsuit that alleges a large farm, among others, failed to properly inform neighbors and officials about area nitrate levels. The authors once again exercise selective story telling by ignoring the fact that the Central Sands region has had pre-existing high nitrate levels for decades due to decades of agricultural activities long before there were any CAFOs. There's no mention of technology improvements along the way that have reduced runoff and lowered fertilizer rate applications using precision agriculture.
- The authors describe cows as merely “veritable waste machines,” a simplistic and dismissive observation. Cows also turn inedible grasses and fiber into milk, so why not describe them as “the ultimate human care providers?” Cows are the ultimate recyclers AND upcyclers in an age when sustainability is of increasing importance.
- If the authors wanted to report on the facts, a simple file review at the DNR would have shown how there is more to the unfortunate story of the Karnopps. DNR water samples did not find any bacteria. Attorneys are now involved and the truth will likely never be reported on.
Wisconsin’s dairy farmers — large and small and everything in between — deserve better journalism. Our $46 billion annual industry is slowly and cautiously emerging from one of the most devastating downturns in its history. We have plenty of other things we would rather be doing than fact-checking our state’s premier “news” publication.
But until journalists actually do their job — base their reporting on the future of dairy farming with balance, objectivity and science — they do more harm than good. We will continue to advocate for accuracy.
Cindy Leitner is President of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, an organization that represents regulated dairy farms in Wisconsin.