A company proposing a new industrial hog farm in Burnett County, Wis. has caused alarm among local citizen and environmental advocates. The Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) would be located in Trade Lake Township, about 20 miles north of St. Croix Falls and 10 miles from the St. Croix River.
Cumberland LLC, a company managed by Jeffrey Sauer of Thorp, a city in central Wisconsin, filed an application with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in March. The project also includes Iowa farming firm Suidae Health and Production.
The proposed CAFO would house thousands of hogs in barns at the site, producing millions of gallons of manure each year.
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It would be located on 35 acres purchased from Trade Lake’s long-time town chair, Jim Melin, who is retiring and transitioning his business to his son, Erik. The younger Melin says he will use the manure as fertilizer on approximately 1,000 acres of his family’s land, where they grow corn and soybeans.
Applying so much fertilizer to soil elsewhere has caused foul odors and polluted lakes, streams, and groundwater. Homes near the farms decrease in value.
“This project has the potential to do a lot of harm, hurting both neighbors and the area’s wonderful natural resources,” said Deb Ryun of the St. Croix River Association. “We’re going to do everything we can to protect the St. Croix River and all our clean water from pollution.”
The hog farm backers say it would create jobs, and could increase prices for local grain. It would also help the hog industry spread out CAFOs geographically to reduce the risk of swine flu and other diseases from spreading.
Water from the site flows to the Trade River, which eventually flows into the St. Croix across from Wild River State Park. It is also near several popular lakes, and the Fish Lake Wildlife Management Area, a 16,000-acre wetland complex important for numerous species of plants and animals.
Concerned local citizens are urging Trade Lake and Burnett County to adopt one-year moratoriums on such operations to put rules in place before any facility is permitted.
An online petition opposing the project has been signed by more than 600 people as of this writing.
At a Trade Lake township meeting last week, more than a hundred people crowded into the town hall to voice opposition. In a lively and even lyrical report by Eddie Emerson in the Inter-County Leader, he reported residents were agitated.
“You are coming here giving as a bunch of side talk,” said Susan Hanson, a middle-aged woman visibly moved as she addressed the hog farm consultant. “We live in an environmentally fragile eco-system and you want to place your hog farm right in the middle of it all. Whatever you do will impact the quality of our life. We have heritage here. This land is our birthright! I’m mad as all get out!”– Hog farm proposal not well received
The CAFO would be the first of its kind in northern Wisconsin. A similar proposal was made in 2015 in Bayfield County, in the Lake Superior watershed, but has not advanced after significant opposition, and a new ordinance passed by the county.
Bayfield County sought to require CAFOs to store manure longer, restrict manure spreading during winter, forbid spreading two days hours before rain in the forecast, and limit phosphorus runoff.
Burnett County cabin-owner Dani Dircks pointed out that CAFOs present numerous risks to the environment. “The county has strict zoning restrictions for cabin-owners,” Dircks said. “I’ll be disappointed if they aren’t more rigorous about something so environmentally harmful.”
A water scientist and farmer in the region offered another possible way to mitigate the impacts. Dr. Shawn Schottler of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station pointed out swine is a growing industry, with America now exporting 2.2 million metric tons each year.
Hogs at CAFOs typically consume a lot of corn and soybeans, so farms like this one can also promote growing more of those crops. These short-lived, shallow-rooted plants can lead to increased runoff from fields, contaminating nearby waterbodies.
“One way to offset some of the impacts on water would be to require the farm to use a certain amount of feed made from perennial crops, like intermediate wheatgrass, also called Kernza,” said Dr. Shawn Schottler of the St. Croix Watershed Research Station. “That gives farmers in the area a market for crops that help reduce runoff.”
Permit requirements and local ordinances will be a frequent topic of discussion in Trade Lake in the months ahead.
Just the beginning
The farm proposal is still in the early stages, with more opportunities for public input in the future.
The anti-CAFO petition calls for authorities to reject the project as proposed.
“We believe there are way too many unknowns in the area of water and air quality for this facility to be located so close to neighbors and the expansive water ways that make up Trade Lake,” the petition reads. “The Canute Creek Flowage is only 2 miles west of the property, which connects directly into the Trade River and eventually flows into the St. Croix River.”
In an update on April 23 from petition creator Janelle Moe of the Round Trade Lake Improvement Association, she said the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources told her the application that had been filed was essentially a placeholder, with a full proposal expected to follow.
The DNR says the primary components will be a five-year waste management plan, environmental impact analysis, and identifying wetlands that would be affected. Moe said it might be six months before the next major development.
The first wave of debate on the proposed farm could foretell a lot about the future of the rural region with a wild river running through it.
“We still support a lot of small, family farms around here,” said the St. Croix River Association’s Deb Ryun. “There are very few confinements in the northwest part of Wisconsin. I fear this could be the first of many.”
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- Cumberland LLC – Department of Natural Resources Water Permit Application
- Proposed $20M CAFO Stirs Up Debate In Northern Wisconsin, Wisconsin Public Radio
- Proposed $20 million, 23,000-hog farm divides northwestern Wisconsin community, Fox 9
- Hog farm proposal not well received, Inter-County Leader