DNR reviewing new information on CAFO expansion

As concerned groups voice their worries about CAFO expansions around the state, the DNR is reviewing new information on a controversial nutrient management plan from a Mondovi-based dairy farm.

Cranberry Creek Dairy is located west of Eau Claire in Buffalo County.

When concentrated animal feeding operations — or CAFOs — want to expand operations, that means a lot more manure will be produced. Because of that, they need to submit plans to the DNR for dealing with the manure.

“[An NMP] is a list of acreage that should be sufficient to spread the manure in a safe way,” said Jeff Smith, head of Citizen Action Organizing Cooperative – Western Wisconsin. “You can only put down so much manure in a year without it being harmful to the soil and water underneath.”

Anti-CAFO groups like Farms Not Factories, Family Farm Defenders and Citizens Water Coalition of Wisconsin are pushing back against expansion plans like this, citing potential environmental damage from manure run-off.

But proponents argue these operations enhance local economies and create jobs.

According to a report from the National Association of Local Boards of Health, CAFOs can provide animal products at lower cost because of the more condensed, efficient way animals are housed, coupled with increased facility size and animal specialization — but only when they are “properly managed, located and monitored.”

NMPs follow a straightforward formula, balancing the number of acres with the amount of manure to be spread, but Smith says it can be difficult for farms to find enough land to support thousands of additional animals in one location.

Some farms “don’t own that much property to work out that formula on their own,” Smith says. “They have to contract with properties around them, and spread manure on that property.”

Normally, landowners that are included in NMPs have to give their consent to be part of the land area where the manure will be spread. In this case, “that’s where the drama begins,” Smith said.

In early May, the DNR requested more information on a nutrient management plan from Cranberry Creek Dairy, saying its plan failed to support the proposed additional 6,794 animals. The DNR requested changes to the plan, including removing dozens of land plots which were set to be used for manure spreading.

“Cranberry Creek was placing people’s property on the list without getting their permission,” said Smith, who has attended several public meetings on this specific expansion. “That became clear at the hearing, and DNR said ‘You’ve got to get permission, or we cannot justify this NMP plan.’”

On May 3, the DNR sent a letter to Cranberry Creek Dairy requesting more information on the proposed expansion, and asked that many fields which were on the NMP plan be removed for this reason.

Now Smith — and other landowners in the area he has spoken with — are concerned that Cranberry Creek will possibly deviate from the NMP even if it is eventually approved. Smith fears manure will be “oversaturating close to home,” risking “a serious water problem.”

And a recent state Senate public hearing focused on a bill which would increase compensation for people with contaminated wells from $9,000 to $12,000. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy voted in favor of the bill, which was co-authored by Rep. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, and Sen. Robert Cowles, R-Green Bay.

According to Kitchens, some areas of the state feature shallow soils and cracked, pitted limestone bedrock, which can lead to pollutants “flowing freely” into the groundwater.

“It is particularly problematic in northeastern Wisconsin where there is a very high concentration of dairy cattle and very little soil to act as a filter to remove fecal contaminants before they reach the groundwater,” Kitchens said.

Cranberry Creek did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency has not “rejected or denied” Cranberry Creek’s nutrient management plan.

“We asked for more information, which we have just received and are currently reviewing that information,” Dick wrote in an email.

There were 289 permitted CAFO operations in the state at the beginning of 2017, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Though a large amount are clustered near Green Bay in Brown, Calumet, Outagamie, Manitowoc and Kewaunee Counties, most counties have at least one CAFO. Only 16 have none, based on a DNR map.

–By Alex Moe