Dairy groups, farmers push back against new ordinances in northwest Wisconsin

Colleen Kottke
Wisconsin State Farmer
Dairy groups are standing behind farmers in Polk and Burnett counties that stand to be impacted by burdensome regulations placed on large dairy operations by town officials.

Dairy groups are lending support to farmers in Polk and Burnett counties that stand to be impacted by burdensome regulations placed on large dairy operations by town officials.

Recently in Polk County, the Towns of Laketown, Trade Lake and Eureka passed new local regulations on farmers, which ag advocate groups say add almost limitless and unobtainable permitting conditions on growing farms.

Conditions listed in the ordinance go so far as requiring farms to prevent smells noticeable to humans, execute traffic studies, and conduct the hours of operation on the farm between the hours of 8 am - 5 pm, Monday through Friday.

Kim Bremmer, executive director of Venture Dairy Cooperative, said Polk County farmers and local business owners put the Town of Laketown on notice that their CAFO ordinance goes too far. The letter, presented via Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) Litigation Center says the township's “CAFO” ordinance is unlawful and violates Wisconsin’s livestock siting law in a number of ways. 

Kim Bremmer

“We tried to reason with the board from the beginning, but it was clear that the majority of the board was not interested in really hearing from farmers and local businesses,” said Kim Bremmer, Executive Director of Venture Dairy Cooperative. “These citizens had no other choice.”

Bremmer says the letter is an important first step in potential litigation against unlawful government action.

Scott E. Rosenow, executive director of the WMC Litigation Center, says provisions in the ordinance are unlawful and preempted by state law, and harms the claimants listed as Michael and Joyce Byl, Grantsburg, Wis., Sara Byl, Scott and Jen Matthiesen and Merle and Janice Spoelstra, all of Cushing, Wis.

Rosenow says the claimants will commence action in Polk County Circuit Court seeking declaratory relief and injunctive relief preventing the Town from enforcing the provisions of the ordinance.

“Local government cannot continue to look to farmers for economic development and environmental improvement while at the same time making the cost of doing business astronomical,” Bremmer said.

The Dairy Business Association (DBA) and Edge Dairy Farmer Cooperative joined the effort by asking the state to step in and review the action of several townships in northwestern Wisconsin, claiming local governments officials are imposing "outlandish" regulations on large livestock farms.

“These towns have clearly ignored current laws, regulations and related review and approval processes prescribed by our state Legislature and the department that provide methods local governments may use to regulate farms,” the groups wrote in a request for a so-called material review to the chief legal counsel and livestock facility siting staff at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

The letter centers on the action of six townships in Burnett and Polk counties that have created a model ordinance for the 'new, far-reaching rules, which would severely impede new or expanding large livestock farms, from added fees and additional reporting to lower caps on animal numbers and limited hours of operation', the groups said.

Three of the towns — Eureka, Laketown and Trade Lake — already have enacted ordinances. The other three — Bone Lake, Luck and Sterling — have proposed similar rules. 

“Time is of the essence for the department to aid in curbing these efforts before more farmers face uncertain and outlandish regulatory measures,” the letter states

According to the dairy groups, a material review is a process through which DATCP assesses whether an ordinance is consistent with the state law that regulates local government approval of large livestock farms designated as concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. The findings carry no binding authority. 

It is abundantly clear “the towns have altogether evaded Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law,” DBA and Edge wrote. 

The letter also was signed by two representative from two farm in Burnett and Polk counties – Four Cubs Farm, LLC Grantsburg, Burnett County and Minglewood, Inc. Deer Park, Polk County – and was sent to the towns. 

Not the first time

This is not the first time the dairy groups have pushed back on attempts at regulatory overreach by county and town governments in that area.

When members of the Polk County Board of Supervisors decided to take up measures regulating large-scale hog farms and extending a moratorium on them, representatives from the Venture Dairy Cooperative, Wisconsin Dairy Alliance and the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce sent supervisors a letter warning the supervisors they could be committing a felony if they moved forward with regulating concentrated animal feeding operations. 

The letter called an extension of the moratorium unlawful and urged the board not to pass an ordinance that regulated only swine CAFOs, which is against state regulations, the organizations argued. 

The board ended up turning down the moratorium.

Cindy Leitner

“These ordinances give these towns nearly unfettered authority to impose any condition on licensure on farms as long as the town determines in their view it is ‘reasonable and necessary’ to protect public health – meaning there are no bounds on what conditions the Town might impose during permitting and beyond,” said Cindy Leitner, President of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance.