DEER PARK, Wis. – Dairy farmers in the northwestern Wisconsin counties of Polk and Burnett are in a fight for their right to operate their family-owned farms, facing regulation from the town boards that govern their local municipalities.
Last fall, six townships – five in northern Polk County and one in southern Burnett County – began working in partnership to disapprove of the development of animal agriculture, particularly concentrated animal feeding operations.
Kristin Quist and her family own and operates Minglewood Inc., a 1,200-cow, fifth-generation dairy farm located in the southern Polk County township of Black Brook.
Quist said she first saw opposition to farm growth in 2019 as people in the area began expressing concern about a proposed hog CAFO being planned in Burnett County.
“None of the people on these town boards are involved in agriculture at all; there are no farmers representing these townships,” she said.
The situation has elevated to a state of critical concern for farmers in the two counties. During the coronavirus pandemic, Quist said the resistance seemed to quiet down, but as the world began to return to normal in 2021, things began to pick back up.
“When this hog CAFO was proposed, people just did not understand,” Quist said. “They thought it was just going to be this big hog factory … and it was going to be terrible.”
Quist shared that one member of each of the six townships – Trade Lake in Burnett County and the Polk County townships of Eureka, Laketown, Bone Lake, Luck and Sterling – was appointed to a committee, and each township committed more than $3,000 to retain legal counsel.
With the help of the Wild Rivers Conservancy, this committee crafted proposed ordinances aimed at regulating agriculture in their municipalities and impeding growth or expansion. Rules being proposed include lower caps on animal numbers, limiting hours of operation and increasing fees and permit costs.
Since last fall, Trade Lake, Laketown and Eureka townships have enacted the ordinances, while the other three are looking at putting them in place. Quist said she has recently heard that a seventh township, located in Polk County, has begun looking into enacting similar types of ordinances.
Currently, there are only six CAFOs permitted in Polk County, five dairy farms and one poultry farm, and one dairy CAFO in Burnett County.
Last fall, the county board chairman invited the owners of Polk County CAFO operations to attend a county board meeting, allowing them 20 minutes to present about the daily operations of their farms.
“It was shocking to my dad; there were protesters outside of the government center,” Quist said. “They think we are here to ruin their water quality and things like that, but they don’t understand that if we don’t have good water quality, we can’t exist either. We live here and raise our families here. We have been here, farming, for 128 years. We are not new to the community.”