The Dairy Business Association is helping to lead a coalition of farm organizations opposed to proposed changes to ATCP 51, the administrative rule that regulates the siting of larger livestock facilities in Wisconsin.
This group has already reached out to members of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) board, submitted joint written comments on the hearing draft and drew news media attention to our objections.
The passage of the livestock facility siting law in Wisconsin in 2003 was one of DBA’s greatest legislative accomplishments. It came at a time when the future of Wisconsin dairy was uncertain. California had passed us in milk production and people were wondering if Wisconsin farmers could turn things around to halt the steady decline in dairy farms and herd size. A uniform system of regulating where farms could be built and how they could expand was a tremendous help in attracting and retaining agricultural investment in the state.
We know the law is working for Wisconsin. At the same time, the statute covering livestock facility siting also calls for a periodic review of the administrative rule every four years. The last two reviews occurred in 2014-15 and 2018-19. The result of both processes was lists of proposed changes to the law. Both reviews were conducted by the same group of technical experts, which unfortunately did not include farmer participation.
DBA raised specific objections to the proposed changes in 2017, which is when the first draft of the rule revisions was turned over to the DATCP board. At that time, the board concluded the rule was not ready to move forward. This summer, when presented with a very similar draft rule, the DATCP board decided to go ahead with public hearings. This move was made over the objections of DBA and other ag groups.
Having received the greenlight from their board, DATCP staff set up 12 public hearings in six locations across the state. By the time you receive this newsletter, these hearings will be over. DBA had a heavy member presence at all the hearings. Other partners in our coalition also made sure their members came out to testify.
While there are certainly some positive changes proposed for the livestock siting rule, there are several areas that need improvement for DBA and most of the rest of agriculture to feel comfortable with the draft. Three big issues were raised in our correspondence with DATCP and in various people’s testimony at public hearings:
Odor management and setbacks — The proposal abandons the odor scoring system that has been used since the beginning of livestock facility siting. That is replaced by drastically increased setbacks. While farmers might be able to “earn back” part of these setbacks by implementing odor mitigation practices, the workability of this new system is unknown because it has not been field tested.
Runoff management — Changes would blur the lines between the effluent limits that CAFOs must follow and what is expected from non-CAFOs that are subject to livestock siting. Also, the proposed rule would incorporate a newer Natural Resources Conservation Service standard for the construction of vegetated treatment areas (VTAs) that would discourage their use and move more farms toward 100 percent collection of water off their feed pads.
Broader local control — Several changes in the hearing draft would expand local control over monitoring compliance. Worse still, for farmers who can’t comply with the new setback requirements, their only option would be to seek a local variance. These variances will be hard to obtain and ultimately result in ad hoc local decisions, which is what this rule was created to prevent.
After reviewing all the testimony and written comments, DATCP staff will likely revise the draft rule further. Then, in November, they will go back to the DATCP board to try to win approval of their final draft before it can go to the Legislature for review.
DBA will remain engaged to ensure that if changes to the rule occur, they will be for the better.