Public Hearing Planned on Proposed S&S Jerseyland Dairy Expansion

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is planning a public hearing for Feb. 7, 10 am, via Zoom on the permit-renewal application from the Forestville-based S&S Jerseyland Dairy, which is seeking to expand its operation, said James Salscheider, a DNR agricultural runoff management specialist.

S&S Jerseyland Dairy is a large-scale farming operation known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO). Owned and operated by the Schmidt family, the farm was previously issued a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit to operate. 

Such permits apply only to water-quality protection, ensuring that farms use proper planning, nutrient management and structural construction to protect Wisconsin waters. They do not give the DNR the authority to address air, odor, traffic, lighting, land use or any of the social concerns people may have about large farms, according to the DNR’s website.

When S&S Jerseyland Dairy’s last WPDES permit renewal was considered five years ago, concerned citizens packed the Forestville Town Hall, where several in attendance expressed concerns about the effect that a farming operation of that size could have on the environment, such as the potential for water contamination.

At that time, the farm had 6,395 “animal units” and proposed in its permit-renewal application to expand to 10,177 by April 30, 2022. The type of animal determines its unit designation. For example, the DNR calculates each milking and dry cow at 1.4 animal units when included with other animals.

As of January 2022, according to the latest permit-renewal notice, S&S Jerseyland Dairy had 4,302 milking and dry cows, 1,883 small heifers (400-800 pounds), and 1,113 calves, for a total equivalent of 7,654 animal units. 

S&S Jerseyland Dairy is projecting an expansion up to 9,200 milking and dry cows, 560 large heifers (800-1,200 pounds), 1,500 small heifers (400-800 pounds), and 1,575 calves, for a total equivalent of 14,711 animal units, the permit-renewal notice states.

As listed by the DNR, there are 335 CAFO permits in Wisconsin, 304 of those for dairies. Only 12 dairies in Wisconsin are currently larger than 10,000 animal units, according to a spreadsheet of all CAFOs across the state that the DNR provided the Peninsula Pulse

What appears to be the largest dairy operation in the state – 17,205 animal units – is located in Calumet County. Three of the 12 dairies with more than 10,000 animal units are located in Kewaunee County: Ebert Dairy Enterprises in Algoma (10,503), Pagels Ponderosa in Kewaunee (10,803), and Kinnard Farms in Casco (11,369).

Annually, S&S Jerseyland Dairy generates 46,872,599 gallons of manure and process wastewater, and 1,216 tons of solid manure. After the expansion, S&S Jerseyland Dairy would generate approximately 95,267,281 gallons of manure and process wastewater, and 1,504 tons of solid manure. 

As of April 2022, S&S Jerseyland Dairy had greater than the required minimum of 180 days of storage for manure, the notice states.

S&S Jerseyland Dairy has 9,256 acres in its approved nutrient management plan, of which 7,808 acres are rented or in contract agreements, and 1,548 acres are owned. 

The DNR announced it had tentatively decided that S&S Jerseyland Dairy’s WPDES permit should be reissued.

After the renewal notice was posted Nov. 23, Salscheider said at least five people requested a public hearing on the permit renewal within 30 days of the notice date, which is one of the conditions that would call for a hearing to be held.

Unlike the 2017 hearing held at the Forestville Town Hall, where people packed one location, Salscheider said the DNR switched to virtual hearings following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 and continues to hold those hearings via Zoom. 

Given the shallow soil conditions in much of southern Door County and concern about the potential for water contamination from spreading manure, opposition to the permit being reissued has resurfaced.

Christine Reid of the Friends of the Forestville Dam, which sought the hearing, is expressing those concerns.

“Southern Door is at great risk of repeating the mistakes that contaminated one of three wells in Kewaunee County,” she said. “[Kewaunee County] now has stronger spreading restrictions because of that contamination, and Southern Door is receiving the excess. We will be continuing to advocate for the same spreading restrictions (or better) as Kewaunee County because we live on karst [topography] also.”

Village of Forestville officials have also expressed concerns about the proposed S&S Jerseyland Dairy expansion.

“The village [is] surrounded by agricultural land owned/rented/landspread by S&S Jerseyland Dairy,” said trustee Lara Jorgensen in her request for a public hearing. “The village has approximately 210 homes that are all serviced by private wells and municipal sewer. Several factors place the village in a high-risk category for mass groundwater/well contamination: population density, well location, topography of the watershed/land, including sloping.”

Jorgensen said she believes CAFOs in Door and Kewaunee counties have resulted in “an overabundance of animals producing manure and shortage of land to spread it on,” and, she said, “doubling the herd size at S&S will only compound the existing problems.”

During the current permit term, according to a DNR fact sheet about the permit-renewal application, a notice of violation and an enforcement conference was held for S&S Jerseyland Dairy “in response to a missed permit schedule and a significant manure-spill event.” 

Salscheider said S&S Jerseyland Dairy completed all previously required actions as part of the enforcement process, and after a review of all records and a site visit on June 23, 2021, the farming operation had been found to be in “substantial compliance” with the current permit.

Debra Fitzgerald contributed to the data reporting for this story.

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