The state of Wisconsin has finally admitted that one-size-fits-all does not work as agricultural policy in a state with vastly different geology.
In the recently released draft of changes for manure spreading in the 15-county karst region, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources states: “The department has found that, in areas of the state where Silurian bedrock is present, groundwater and surface water standards will not be attained by implementing the statewide agricultural performance standards and prohibitions… This is because Silurian bedrock has the capacity to allow rapid transport of contaminants without attenuating those contaminants.”
The draft rules would apply to Door and Kewaunee counties, as well as Brown, Calumet, Dodge, Fond du Lac, Kenosha, Manitowoc, Milwaukee, Outagamie, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington and Waukesha counties.
Rep. Joel Kitchens believes Door County farmers will face the severest restrictions.
“Door County with the very, very shallow soil will suffer more than anybody,” Kitchens said. “Anything under five feet of soil has severe restrictions. I think it is going to be a little tough on some farms in Door County. They have to meet the CAFO rules, meaning they can’t spread manure at all on less than two feet of soil.”
Kitchens said so far reactions from both environmentalists and the ag industry have been positive, adding that it’s unusual for both sides to be kind of OK with the proposed changes.
“It does speak to the fact that the farm groups, at least in our area, really get it,” he said. “They’ve been under enough pressure. I spoke with the Dairy Business Association. They thought it was a good compromise. Obviously there are some things they would rather not have. They said to me, we want to have dairy in this area, and we know to do that, we need to do things differently. They knew they were going to have to make some changes.”
Kitchens said he has heard some criticism that the draft does not cover a large enough area.
“I wanted them to stick to our area,” he said. “We’ve demonstrated in our area that the rules that are in place right now are not adequate to protect groundwater. If we had expanded it to a bigger area, we would have had a lot more opposition politically. We would either have had to weaken it or would have had a tougher time passing it.”
“The groundwater quality crisis from pollutants associated with agriculture demands significant change,” said Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA) staff attorney Sarah Geers said in a statement upon the release of the draft. “We hope that DNR’s rule proposal will incrementally move us in the right direction, but more is needed. This rule applies to both large and small farmers, but we should be asking more of large, industrial concentrated animal feeding operations. We need them to do more in areas like Kewaunee County that are very vulnerable to groundwater pollution and that already have so many cows and too much manure.”
According to the MEA, the most significant parts of the new rule include:
- A prohibition on mechanical applications of manure on fields that have less than two feet of soil over bedrock or groundwater;
- A prohibition on mechanical applications of manure on frozen or snow-covered ground on fields with less than five feet of soil over bedrock;
- A requirement that manure applications leave a 250-foot setback from drinking water wells;
- Promotion of reduced application rates, applying manure at the right time, and pathogen treatment.
“I think that these are reasonable standards of practice,” said Don Niles, a dairy farmer in Casco and president of Peninsula Pride Farms, an organization of Kewaunee and Door County farmers who are dedicated to improving farming practices and protecting groundwater. “I don’t see that there’s anything in here that doesn’t make sense. I think we’re starting to move in the direction of science, science that can be workable for the farmers. This is the direction Peninsula Pride is going anyways, finding newer and better ways to work in our vulnerable areas.”
Niles said Peninsula Pride can act as a clearinghouse for information to help make the new rules work for all area farmers.
“I think on the outside it looks like farmers are static in their practice, but in reality farmers are always changing,” he said. “In these times with the information that’s coming to us, the speed of change has even accelerated. Farmers are pretty ingenious people. Given enough time and new set of facts, they can come up with pretty creative ways to do a better job.”
The DNR will accept comments on the draft through Aug. 7, 2017, after which public hearings are expected.
You can read the draft at dnr.wi.gov/news/input/documents/rules/WT1516DraftRule.pdf.