Kewaunee County officials Tuesday declined to pursue a moratorium on dairy herd expansion, saying it could hamper recent progress toward groundwater protection.
Corporation Counsel Jeff Wisnicky told the county Land & Water Conservation Committee that enforcement of regulations on manure land-spreading is better suited to the goal than trying to impose a moratorium on herd expansion.
The idea was placed on the committee’s monthly agenda after several speakers at a recent hearing expressed concern that newly reissued permits for several concentrated animal feeding operations allow for the CAFOs to increase their animal-unit numbers by the hundreds and even thousands.
But Wisnicky expressed skepticism a moratorium could pass a legal challenge.
“I think a moratorium is going to be trouble and I don’t know that it’s worth the lift,” Wisnicky said.
Committee members said they’d rather avoid re-establishing an adversarial relationship with local farmers after several years of cooperation and progress.
“Deep down I feel the only way we’re going to go forward is by working together,” Supervisor Chuck Wagner said.
County Conservationist Davina Bonness said the county has made more progress to protect groundwater in the last three years than in the previous 10, largely because research is now available providing a clearer understanding of how spreading manure over the county’s fragile karst topography contributes to well contamination, especially when it occurs after rain events or during the spring melt.
That research led to a county ordinance restricting land-spreading during winter months and pending changes to state regulations regarding land-spreading in areas where the soil depth over Silurian bedrock is 20 feet or less.
“We’re working with the farmers, I think, better than we ever have before,” Bonness said. “We’ve been open and honest and have had really good conversations, and we know what we need to do. We have to start limiting the amount of manure applied on these shallow soils.”
The state Natural Resources Board is scheduled to consider the updated state regulations when it meets Wednesday.
Supervisor Lee Luft expressed concern that pushing a moratorium would undo a lot of progress.
“I really think we are down the path to working together,” Luft said. “There is a cooperative spirit here, and I would really hate to see that dismantled because now we have the us versus them mentality.”
The committee heard from several members of the public at the start of the meeting.
Lynn Utesch said the moratorium is a common-sense approach that would give recent efforts a chance to work before letting herds expand any further.
“I think it’s time to let those practices we’ve been hearing about take effect without the addition of more animals being brought into the environment here,” Utesch said.
Don Niles of Dairy Dreams LLC, president of the Peninsula Pride Farms coalition, said local farmers are dedicated to the idea that clean water and agriculture can co-exist.
“I think the measures that have been taken in a collaborative manner have been very encouraging so far,” Niles said.