Don Niles, co-owner of Dairy Dreams LLC and representating the Peninsula Pride Farms initiative, asks the Kewaunee County Board to delay action on an ordinance to regulate spreading of liquid manure on farm fields.

By Warren Bluhm

A proposed Kewaunee County ordinance to more strictly regulate the spreading of liquid manure over farm fields was sent back to committee Tuesday, after representatives of several large farms objected to the measure as potentially cost-prohibitive.

The first draft of the Waste Irrigation Ordinance was introduced in May to the Board of Health and the Land and Water Conservation Committee. Among its provisions are requirements that liquid manure be distributed using low-pressure systems and cannot be sprayed – the liquid must be spread by droplets. Also, the spreader cannot be higher than 18 inches off empty land or below the canopy of any crop.

The ordinance received a first reading at the County Board’s September meeting and was scheduled to be considered for final approval Tuesday.

Don Niles, co-owner of Dairy Dreams LLC in rural Casco and speaking for the Peninsula Pride Farms coalition, said his group was “thrilled that the County Board is looking at using science and center pivots to help us in our goal of farming in a more sustainable manner with a smaller environmental footprint,” but said the county was moving the measure along too quickly.

“I’m not entirely clear as to why there would be a rush on this right now,” Niles said. “This is the time of year as you know that farmers are pretty busy outside, wrapping things up for the fall. We’re about to go into a period of time where we have time to look at this and study this and to investigate some costs and prices and things like that.”

Nick Guilette of AgSource Laboratories asked the board to delay a decision “to work through some more of the details and clarify so that we don’t put into effect an ordinance that is so prohibitive that we’re not able to follow it.”

The same concerns were voiced by Aaron Augustian of Augustian Farms in southern Kewaunee County and Dave Lacrosse, property manager of Pagel’s Ponderosa, the county’s largest dairy operation.

The comments came during the Public Comment portion at the beginning of the board’s monthly meeting. John Rybski of Algoma, a supporter of the proposed ordinance, reminded the board that the measure has been under discussion for five months.

“Certainly there has been much time to pose questions if not have them answered,” Rybski said.

Supervisor John Pagel, who owns Pagel’s Ponderosa, made the motion to send the ordinance back to the Land and Water Conservation Committee, which he chairs.

“You won’t find anywhere in the minutes from Land and Water Committee that we approved this to be sent to the full board,” Pagel said. “We’re all in favor of the irrigation ordinance, but there needs to be some modifications and we need to send it in to the full board for approval with it having the correct language so the farmers can use this tool in the toolbox.”

County Board Chairman Bob Weidner, who does not sit on Land and Water but has attended its recent meetings, countered that the bill advanced by unanimous consent.

“Nobody objected to sending it to the full board,” Weidner said.

Supervisor Lee Luft said he expects strong opposition to an effort to loosen the ordinance’s restrictions, which represent Kewaunee County’s latest effort to deal with groundwater contamination issues, which have been traced in part to the practice of spreading large amounts of liquid manure onto fields, especially in the winter and fall.

“The fear I have from this is that if we don’t act tonight to move this forward as an ordinance, the state may well move to provide their regulations for manure irrigation. I would expect them to be extremely lenient and not include the safeguards that are in this ordinance.”

The county would be prohibited from passing rules that are more stringent than state law unless it has an ordinance already in effect that can be “grandfathered in,” Luft said, arguing that if the ordinance proves to be a hardship it can be amended later.

But Supervisor Chuck Wagner, who with Ron Paider, Pagel and Luft comprise the committee, said there’s no indication the state Department of Natural Resources is currently working on manure irrigation regulations and the county should “do it the right way the first time.”

Wagner added that a promised joint meeting of Public Health with Land and Water to discuss the proposed ordinance has never materialized.

The motion to send the ordinance to Land and Water passed 15-5, with Luft, Pat Benes, Mary Ellen Dobbins, Virginia Haske and Kaye Shillin dissenting.