Wisconsin’s pristine Driftless Area will soon be home to a new industrial farm capable of producing thousands of pigs, after the Department of Natural Resources approved its pollutant discharge permit.
The approval allows the farm to move forward with the construction of its new facility, without any requirements for monitoring water quality in the area, nor limiting the number of animals allowed to be housed on the property.
Roth Feeder Pig II, owned by Howard “AV” Roth, will produce up to 140,000 weaned piglets a year, which will then be transferred to other farms to be raised for meat production. The farm will also house about 5,100 female pigs and about 50 boars, in addition to other pigs.
Some residents of Crawford County, where the farm will be built, are worried that having an additional hog concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO, will have negative impacts on a region known for its cold, clear trout streams and uninterrupted rolling hills.
“We were certainly disappointed to see the notice of final determination and the final permits that didn’t include any substantive changes based on the 1,200 comments that were submitted,” Crawford Stewardship Project coordinator Forest Jahnke said. “It seems like we’re in this position where they’re ignoring precautionary principle, and it’s up to citizens to prove that this will contaminate the water.”
Crawford County is already home to another hog CAFO, also owned by Roth. Roth Feeder Pig opened in 2010, and residents say they’re already concerned about the impacts that farm is causing to the area.
More:Crawford County residents are worried about their water. To keep it clean, they want to prevent more factory farms from starting.
The Driftless Area, while known for its hills and water, also has a unique geological makeup. Beneath the soil, different types of rock give the area the clean, crisp water it’s known for, but that same rock and thin layers of topsoil also make the area susceptible to contamination from manure.
Many of the residents in Crawford County rely on private wells that pull water from the ground that isn’t receiving the same type of filtration as water that goes through a municipal treatment plant.
Residents like Jahnke are worried that liquid manure could be over-applied to fields as fertilizer, and potentially sink down into the groundwater, or that if spread at the wrong time, could run off of the soil and into streams and rivers.
In the documents accompanying the permit, the DNR addressed many concerns raised by the community during the comment period, including worries that the liquid manure generated at the industrial farm will harm surface and groundwater in the area.
According to the DNR, the farm will generate more than 9.4 million gallons of liquid manure a year, and will then apply that liquid manure to about 1,300 acres. The farm will consist of three barns, a composting building and an equipment shed, with manure collection tanks under the barns, where manure will be kept until it is able to be spread on fields in the area.
According to the documents, the agency believes that as long as the farm follows the nutrient management plans, there will be no issues for water.
The farm would employ 14 people full-time with an annual payroll of $900,000 a year, documents say. Roth has said his operation would be a good steward of the land.
Jahnke and others in the Crawford County stewardship program have already been monitoring the water quality around the existing farm, and have found evidence of contaminants such as phosphorous and E.coli in small creeks during sampling paid for out of pocket by the stewardship program.
The DNR doesn’t typically test those types of small surface waters, Jahnke said, and he’s worried those small creeks could have an impact on other larger bodies of water in the area, like the Mississippi and Wisconsin Rivers and other wetlands nearby the planned farm .
“At the end of the day, these bigger rivers are made up of all the tiny creeks that flow into them,” he said.
In the permitting documents, the DNR notes the concerns residents have raised over water quality, but said that the nutrient management program should prevent issues.
Currently, there are 251 permitted CAFOs in Wisconsin, according to information from the DNR. Each CAFO with a certain number of animals must apply for a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit, which are renewed every five years.
The permit requires several different steps, including a nutrient management plan, an environmental analysis, manure storage calculations, and other plans and specifications for the structures and systems that will be in place on the property.
Aside from the Roth Feeder permit, the DNR also recently re-issued a permit for Kinnard Farms, the controversial Kewaunee County CAFO. In that permit, the DNR limited the number of animals on the farm to what already was housed there, and required water monitoring at two of the locations where the farm applies manure to the land as fertilizer.
The farm filed a lawsuit against the DNR in late April, alleging that the water monitoring will cost too much, and the cap on the number of animals will cause the farm to lose its “competitive flexibility.”
Jahnke said he and other community members have started to talk about potentially filing for a contested case hearing for the newly authorized farm, which would begin a process in which the DNR will review the issuance of the permit and give residents a chance to again raise their concerns with the agency.
Aside from that Jahnke said the DNR needs to start listening to residents in the areas where they’re approving large factory farms, because those are the people who would be impacted by nutrient runoff and groundwater contamination.
“I think we really need not only participatory processes and public input, but it needs to mean something,” he said. “People need to feel a little more heard, and I don’t think people are going to feel heard after this process.”
Laura Schulte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.