Opinions

Let our farmers farm | Bob Blake

Leader letters to the editor
The Polk County Board is apparently planning to vote on extending the CAFO moratorium for a time so they can “consider additional regulations.”
The DNR was created in Wisconsin in the mid 1960s and assumed control over water quality for all public waters in the state at that time. From the outset they determined it was illegal to be the point source of pollutants found in a public water supply. If you owned the property that was found to be the source of pollutants you could face a serious fine that could repeat daily, you could be held financially responsible for damage caused by the pollutants originating on your property, you could be held financially responsible for the cleaning up and any damage caused and, of course, you had to repair the problem so it didn’t happen again. This applies to everyone – farmers, large or small, businesses, private residences – and it has been the case for over 50 years. The idea that now somehow we need new regulations on top of old ones to make what has been illegal for over 50 years “more” illegal seems more than a bit foolish.
Those who are skilled enough to manage these large operations should be honored, not hounded. The skill sets necessary to finance operations of that size, manage cropland to assure a continuing supply of quality feed, manage the livestock to assure they are fed and kept comfortable and healthy so they can perform at peak efficiency, and manage the labor force necessary to get all the work done on time would be valuable traits likely to be found in the CEOs of our largest companies. Additionally, these families, pretty much without exception, are active in the community. They are firefighters, first responders, town board members, school board members, co-op board members, church council members and volunteers for nearly any project undertaken in the community. And are, without exception I am quite sure, the largest property taxpayers in the towns in which they are located.
 I live next to a CAFO and am proud to call them neighbors. I have helped spread manure from their manure pit and have actually spread it within 100 feet of my house. Does it smell? Yup!
It’s manure. It smells – not unlike the porta-potty about three days into the fair. It’s manure and it smells. After a couple of days the odors change to freshly mown hay or freshly tilled soil. A welcome trade-off for the pleasure of living in the country.
These CAFO-sized farms must comply with a massive amount of state and federal regulations piled on them by brain-dead bureaucrats in Madison and Washington who don’t know a cow from a snowblower. These farmers attempt to prosper selling what they produce in a market that allows them no voice in the price they will receive for the products they wish to sell. The CAFO close to me has spent literally millions of dollars in the last few years to remain in compliance with state and federal CAFO regulations dreamed up by people who never saw a regulation they didn’t like. My neighbors store the feed for their animals on a cement slab divided by cement partitions.
When a bunker is filled it is covered with a plastic tarp held in place with old tires. The feed is covered from the time it is harvested right to the moment it is loaded and moved to the feed alleys for the cattle. Rain never touches it. But they were told they had to redesign the cement slab so nothing could run off of it. Any runoff had to be contained and stored in a facility and mechanically spread on fields. When my neighbors tested this runoff for nutrient value the results revealed the runoff to be indistinguishable from rainwater. The federal government is forcing our best farmers to contain, store and mechanically spread rainwater.
I’m unaware of any farmers being jealous of small farmers serving small-niche markets. Why are the small farms so jealous of the success of the larger farms? I think large gardens and backyard chicken coops are great and I use that approach myself to a small degree. But these farms will never feed the world’s hungry people. That will be done with large-scale efficient farms using the latest technology to feed the world.
It’s hard for me to imagine that our local county board could really believe that with some focused attention they could come up with regulations that are dumber, less needed, more burdensome, more expensive and more counterproductive than the best efforts of our state and federal bureaucrats.
The county deals with zoning, the state protects our water, and the feds stick their noses into everything. Vote no on this CAFO moratorium and stick to zoning. Let our farmers – all of our farmers – farm.
Bob Blake
Rural Frederic


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