Guest editorial: Pearls before swine

St. Croix River advocate says a proposed hog farm in Burnett County, Wis. would harm clean water, other natural resources, and the community.




4 minute read

Deb Ryun is Executive Director of the St. Croix River Association.

Fish Lake Wildlife Management Area.

The St. Croix River Association (SCRA) has serious concerns about the proposal to build a 7,500-sow farrowing Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) in the Town of Trade Lake, Wis.

The Fish Lake Wildlife complex is less than one mile from this proposed CAFO. Canute Creek Flowage is only two miles west of the property, which flows into the Trade River. Stretches of the Trade River are home to cold water trout, and it is a direct tributary to the St. Croix River, one of the nation’s first wild and scenic river national parks.

We have grave concerns about permitting a CAFO in an area of Wisconsin where the primary economic engine is tourism and trees. Currently, the largest dairy farm in Burnett County which is considered a CAFO is about 1,300 cows, and we don’t have any large hog facilities.

It is difficult to see how this factory farm fits our local culture. If allowed, CAFOs will take the place of our relatively small, diversified, family farms that have been an important component in the quality of life here. Farms that rotate crops and have an abundance of pasture and hayland coexist with our highly-prized natural resources and are an integral part of our community. These farms support families that make a living growing organic fruits and vegetables.

The proposed CAFO is seeking a permit to build a hog farrowing operation: three large barns on a parcel just over 38 acres, with 7,500 sows plus piglets—sows produce two sets of 10 piglets annually.

We know that on average a hog produces between 5-11 gallons of manure a day. That conservatively translates to between 13,687,500 and 30,112,500 gallons of toxic, liquid manure annually. Imagine 30 million gallons of hog-poop stored on this 38 acre site near a high-value wetland complex, later spread on fields within miles of the St. Croix Riverway from just this first phase in production.

Spreading liquid manure on a harvested corn field (Chesapeake Bay Foundation)

The piglets will be shipped to a “finishing” facility, where they are raised to market weight. It is likely that second facility will be located within 10 miles of the farrowing operation, with a proposed site also in the Trade River watershed. There is no doubt this will affect the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the water.

Additional changes in land use are likely. Hogs in CAFOs eat a lot of feed, primarily corn and soybeans. There isn’t enough grain grown on the local farms now to feed all these animals, so more land will need to be converted to row crop production to create the food for the hogs.

Taking land that is currently in grass or trees and growing annual crops will turn what was permanent cover into bare ground for 8-9 months of the year, leading to more farm runoff pollution.

Beyond the manure and potential for increased farm runoff pollution, there is the issue of water quantity. This is a thirsty proposal, and the demands on the ground water will be significant. This facility will draw from wells to feed the hogs and clean the facilities. It is likely that irrigation will be needed to supply water to the additional crop ground.

Water requirements for the breeding herd of a 1,000 head range from 3 to 4 gallons/day for the gestating female to 5 to 6 gallons/day for the lactating female. Between the expanded row crop fields and the confinement, the water draw will be significant. It is becoming all-too common to hear of streams located near CAFOs drying up.

This area of Wisconsin thrives because people treasure the water and woods. We don’t have a lot of industry or factories. It is vacationland, and a place people move to in their retirement to enjoy life.

The Burnett County tourism bureau says, “What Burnett County may lack in quantity we make up for in quality and diversity. There is something for every palate here… In a place rich with natural and inspiring beauty, it’s no wonder the arts are an integral part of our small-town landscape.”

People in the surrounding community are “scared to death” at the thought of their wells being contaminated, the overwhelming odors spread for miles, increased traffic tearing up the roads, and the devaluation of their land. They’re concerned that antibiotics from this hog farm will find its way into the soil and water and the potential for “superbugs” or antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Nearly 150 Trade Lake Township residents recently attended a town meeting to express their opposition to the project. I share their concern, especially when Jeffrey Sauer, the leader behind this corporate farming operation believes that, and I quote, “the solution to pollution is dilution.”

Let’s not cast our pearls before swine.

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One response to “Guest editorial: Pearls before swine”

  1. johnpersico Avatar

    I question some of the data in this article. 5 to 11 gallons of manure a day is a pretty wide range. Particularly, when the sources I look at suggest 1 to 2 gallons as more likely. I think there is enough concern about the risks of this CAFO without exaggerating or providing misleading data.


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Guest editorial: Pearls before swine