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Farm Groups Mixed on Larson Acres Verdict
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Wisconsin Ag Connection - 07/13/2012
Most state farm organizations are celebrating this week's ruling by the Wisconsin Supreme Court to uphold a court of appeals decision which determined local town boards do not have the authority to impose tougher water quality standards on a livestock farm than that required by the state. The Dairy Business
Association released a statement after justices concluded that Larson Acres near Evansville should have been allowed to expand its dairy operation under permit regulations set by the state. It was the first case to utilize the Livestock Facility Siting Review Board.
"We are thrilled the Supreme Court upheld the Siting law," said DBA Director Laurie Fischer. "This law is the cornerstone piece of legislation that has allowed the dairy industry and all of agriculture in Wisconsin to grow and prosper.
She notes that the growth and modernization of the dairy industry depends on sound regulations that don't fluctuate depending on how local leaders view larger farms personally. Fischer adds that the state's livestock siting standards also provides a consistent regulatory framework for farmers to meet strict,
scientifically based environmental regulations.
"DBA was a strong proponent for siting legislation when it passed both the Senate and Assembly and was signed by then Governor Doyle in 2004. We are pleased the law withstood this challenge," she said.
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau also called this week's ruling a victory. Governmental Relations Director Paul Zimmerman says the purpose of the siting law should be preserved, which is to provide a roadmap for local units of government to implement the livestock facility siting process.
"So far, 23 counties and 41 towns have adopted the state's livestock standards," Zimmerman said. "This law works as intended because most potential roadblocks are now clear at the start of an expansion project. The proof of this is the relative lack of public controversies over farm expansions since the law took
effect in 2006."
He says the conclusion of the ruling means the state legislature had taken steps to balance the important interests of protecting precious natural resources with encouraging a robust and efficient agricultural economy.
But the Wisconsin Farmers Union, which is known for supporting smaller family farms over larger operations, called the ruling 'disappointing.' President Darin Von Ruden says the outcome of the case 'demonstrates just how thoroughly the livestock facility siting law preempts local control' over large livestock
"This decision highlights the need for communities to be proactive in adopting ordinances to protect air and water quality that may go beyond the minimum standards established by the livestock siting ordinance," he said. "The key lesson of the Larson Acres decision is that such ordinances must be implemented
before a large livestock facility applies for a permit."
Von Ruden says the Larson Acres case means one large farm benefited from the absence of local ordinances, while neighboring farms suffered odors and possible groundwater contamination and reduction in property values.
Clean water activists have also been editorializing about the case, saying this ruling only encourages the growth of huge farms, with thousands of animals producing more manure than the land can handle.
State agricultural records show that there were about 240 farms in Wisconsin with over 700 cows. That's up from 219 two years ago and 138 in 2005.
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