Representatives with the state’s largest agricultural groups say proposed changes to livestock siting rules would cause further harm to Wisconsin’s embattled farm industry.

Representatives with the state’s largest agricultural groups say proposed changes to livestock siting rules aimed at giving local governments more say in the process would cause further harm to Wisconsin’s embattled farm industry.

Eleven groups, including the Dairy Business Association, Wisconsin Farm Bureau and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, signed the joint statement in opposition to the siting law revisions.

“At a time when our industry is struggling the most, we cannot afford any more loss due to costly rules and revisions,” Cindy Leitner, president of the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, which is made up of large concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), said at a Monday press conference. “Adoption of this rule without change will simply put a halt to livestock expansion in the state.”

Created in 2006, the state’s livestock facility siting rule creates standards to be used by local governments for new or expanding livestock operations.

Under Wisconsin law, local governments do not have to require permits. But if they choose to do so, state rules set standards and procedures — focused on setbacks from property, management plans, odor, nutrient and runoff management and manure storage facilities — that must be followed.

One of the proposed changes would allow municipalities to enforce larger setbacks from adjacent properties or public rights of way based on criteria like the type of animal, facility and manure storage.

Officials with the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, which is drafting the proposed revisions, say updated siting rules would create a maximum standard for counties to opt into if they choose.

“We do not permit or directly regulate,” said Sara Walling, administrator of agricultural resource management with DATCP. “This is there as a tool for local governments to utilize when issuing permits to expanding or newly sited livestock facilities. To provide consistency across the state.”

DATCP has said the proposed rule changes are expected to have little impact on farms statewide, affecting fewer than 1% of livestock operations in the state.

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Walling added that local governments would be able to pass any setback ordinance they wish so long as they don’t exceed the maximum rule.

“This doesn’t impact a single facility until a local government chooses to adopt it,” Walling said.

But opponents argued the revisions would provide local governments with too much discretion and create a patchwork of rules across different counties.

“If this comes through, with the climate that we have today, with all the anti-CAFO stuff that’s going on today, I can assure you that every single county and town is going to adopt this, because it is going to give them control,” Leitner said.

Scott Laeser, water program director with non-profit environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, described the revisions as “long overdue and modest.”

“I think it’s a little misleading to talk about how negatively (proposed changes) might impact currently operating farms, because it’s only when those current farms expand in size or those new facilities are built that these new rules are going to go into effect,” Laeser said.

A final draft of revisions is expected to be presented to the DATCP board later this year, with final rules presented to the Legislature in early 2020. Walling added that updates to the proposed revisions are likely before the final draft comes before to the board.

“We take our public comment process very seriously and fully intend to digest and weigh all the comments we’re getting in order to make any adjustments to the rule to balance interests,” she said.

Ultimately, revisions will go before the Legislature.

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