Polk County pushes forward figuring out future of factory hog farms

County committee tries to get informed and prevent pollution while swine companies wait.




2 minute read

A hog finishing CAFO in North Carolina. (Via USDA)

Officials in a western Wisconsin county home to major St. Croix River tributaries are trying to craft new policies to protect air, water, and local residents from Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Polk County has enacted a moratorium on new “factory farms” while it compiles a report and a draft permit for anticipated applications.

There are few such operations in the region, and those that exist are largely dairy, not swine like recent proposals. Hogs produce large amounts of manure, and have caused many environmental problems in Iowa, where such farms are prevalent.

Last year in St. Croix County, a manure spill from a dairy CAFO caused serious pollution in a nearby stream.

Wisconsin state law restricts what local authorities can do to regulate CAFOs, so new ordinances must be carefully written to protect local interests while not being more restrictive than allowed.

St. Croix 360 will have a full update on the issue in the coming weeks.

The Inter-County Leader reports that the county’s Environmental Services Committee reviewed a draft report about the issue at its May 27 meeting and again this week.

As the committee discussed the report, Supervisor Doug Route noted that many items indicated everything would be fine if “properly stored and handled.”He asked, “How do we manage to properly store and handle? Who’s going to enforce this ‘properly stored, properly managed, properly handled?’”

According to further discussion, the DNR and county staff are both involved, but much is also self-regulated.

Kazmierski noted that spills happen not only in agricultural settings but at fuel stations, propane businesses, and municipal wastewater treatment systems.

“To say we’re going to eliminate spills, period, and say it’s never going happen,” he added, “well, it would be nice.”

CAFO report nearing completion, Inter-County Leader

The draft report can be viewed here:

Polk County supervisor Amy Middleton, who represents Osceola, offered a detailed memo laying out her concerns with the report, and swine CAFOs generally.

While local governments such as Polk County cannot ban Large-Scale Livestock Facilities, we can implement an operational ordinance, such as the Town of Eureka has, that ensures these factories will not:

• Damage public health
• Pollute water & air
• Destroy property values

However, as hog factory developers attempt to buy prime farmland in Polk County, this report barely scratches the surface on the wide range of public health and economic issues surrounding the swine industry. More focus is needed on the county’s vibrant livestock production and processing industry and the common sense solutions being explored and implemented by towns.

Middleton recommends further work looking at three primary issues:

  1. Economic impact on existing Livestock industry and property values
  2. Laws and enforcement
  3. Health impacts of COVID-19 and African Swine Fever Virus

Stay tuned for more information on this large, fast-moving issue.


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Polk County pushes forward figuring out future of factory hog farms