Company applies for permit to operate ‘hog factory’ in Trade River watershed

Proposal would include tens of thousands of swine in barns, and lots of manure to spread nearby.




5 minute read

This former farm site could be replaced with a 277,000-square foot hog operation. (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

More than two years after first announcing its plan for a large hog operation in Burnett County, Wis., Cumberland LLC has now submitted all the necessary paperwork for review by the Department of Natural Resources. The state will now begin to assess the application for a water permit, including possible impacts on the St. Croix River and its tributaries.

Wisconsin Pollution Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permits are “water quality protection permits designed to ensure proper storage and handling of manure from larger-scale livestock operations. The WPDES permit program does not have authority to address odor, noise, traffic or other issues not related to water quality.”

A key part of the application is the required Nutrient Management Plan. This document describes how much manure will be produced, how it will be stored, and how it will be spread on agricultural fields as fertilizer. The application also provides a general overview of the operation’s plans.

The proposal would house up to 26,350 hogs in three huge barns in the town of Trade Lake, south of Grantsburg. The facility would produce 9 million gallons of waste each year, which would be spread as fertilizer on agriculture fields that drain toward the Wood and Trade Rivers, which ultimately flow into the St. Croix.

The confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) would include three large barns. The location would be dedicated to breeding hogs, weaning, and raising the pigs to a certain age and size. They would then need to be sent to a “finishing facility,” where they would be raised to market weight. No other proposals have been submitted in the area yet, but could follow if Cumberland is approved.

The St. Croix River watershed and proposed CAFO location. (Map by St. Croix 360)

Based on details in the new documents, Cumberland, owned by Jeff Sauer of Thorp, in eastern Wisconsin, would build the facility on 40 acres in the town of Trade Lake.

The 26,000 hogs on the site would be comprised of 14,625 pigs under 55 lbs, 4,125 pigs over 55 lbs, 7,500 sows, and 100 boars. The animals would produce, as previously reported, about 7 million gallons of manure, with another two million gallons of other liquid waste from other sources.

With a 91,300-square foot farrowing barn, 153,000-square foot gestation barn, and 32,800-square foot gilt development unit, the barns combined would be 1.5 times the size of a Walmart Supercenter store.

All the waste would be spread on about 1,800 acres of fields within a couple miles of the operation. Spreading would happen over six to eight days each month in May, July, October, and November. The fields would all be located within about four miles of the CAFO, hauled by trucks to various sites.

With 5,000 gallons of waste per acre each year, there is the potential for pollution of lakes, streams, and groundwater.

The Trade and Wood River watersheds (in green), and the proposed CAFO location. (Map by St. Croix 360)

Hogs present environmental challenges unlike any other livestock. They produce more manure, and it’s rich in phosphorus and nitrogen, as well as antibiotics and other chemicals. Animals never go outside, but huge fans blow the gasses produced by their waste out of the buildings. CAFOs can be smelled up to six miles away. There is no regulation of their air emissions.

The company will dispose of the manure by spreading it across nearby farm fields. It will provide nutrients that could increase crop productivity. But, if the manure flows off the field, it can contaminate lakes and streams. If it soaks through the soil and to the aquifer before, it can contaminate wells and drinking water with the dangerous toxin nitrate.

Regulations can help prevent that from happening. In Wisconsin, the state legislature has controlled as much of the power as possible, passing laws that make it difficult for communities and counties to enact stronger rules.

Cumberland says that the manure could affect nine streams considered “Outstanding” or “Exceptional Resource Waters” by the state of Wisconsin: the St. Croix River, Benson Brook, Bear Brook, Brant Brook, East Brook, Ekdall Brook, Kettle Brook, Pine Brook, and East Brook.

The operation will follow existing regulations, Cumberland says, which means it won’t spread manure within 25 feet of a water body or conduit to a water body like a gully or grassy waterway. It won’t spread manure if the weather forecast for the next two days doesn’t predict a “25-year” rainstorm.

Cumberland notes in the application that opposition to the proposal could be high.

“People will be concerned about the odor and pollution potential of the project,” the application says.

A mile down the road from the proposed Cumberland hog CAFO site. (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

There are no similar operations in the 7,700 square miles that drain into the St. Croix River yet. There are some big poultry operations, a 1,500-head dairy CAFO (with its own problems), and some large cattle feedlots. But there is nowhere else in the region that is home to so many swine.

Roads surrounding the site are lined with signs against the operation. The CAFO site is located in rolling farmland frequently pocked with marshes, ponds, lakes, and streams. There are numerous existing mid-sized independent farms, and people who live along the Trade River, Big Trade Lake, and other connected waters.

When the company made its intentions known in early 2019, local governments passed moratoriums on new proposals until they could conduct research and possibly change regulations. By state law, any such restrictions would have to be backed up by objective evidence. Burnett and Polk Counties, and the towns of Trade Lake, Eureka, and Laketown all tackled the issue.

In the next several weeks, St. Croix 360 will provide more details and analysis of the proposal, the state of local regulations, and the people working to protect air and water in the area.

Local community opposition is organized by KnowCAFOs, with information, resources, and a mailing list sign-up. The St. Croix River Association is also involved. The Environmental Working Group is a national organization with significant experience fighting factory farms.

St. Croix 360 will continue to prioritize coverage of this and any other CAFO proposals in the watershed. It is a serious issue facing the St. Croix River, its tributaries, and the people who live here. Receive updates when you sign up for our email newsletter.

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8 responses to “Company applies for permit to operate ‘hog factory’ in Trade River watershed”

  1. Jon Mulack Avatar
    Jon Mulack

    How has something this disgusting and so out of place ever get this far. This is as stupid as a copper mine in the BWCA.

  2. Sandy Simon Avatar
    Sandy Simon

    no no no this becomes a huge problem for the enviroment. Air pollution, water pollution, you name it. You can read about it on lots of documentation online. this is a very bad idea.

    1. Art Gillitzer Avatar
      Art Gillitzer

      If you live within a few miles of this hog farm and the wind is in the right direction the air you are breathing is stifling, and not even knowing how many chemicals you are inhaling, just one small health issue, not even knowing what it does for water pollution or land values.

  3. Votenoforjoe Avatar

    Has anyone ever been in a hog farm? Or raised pigs? Or helped that newborn find the teat of their dam?
    If you haven’t, you officially have zero say.
    Farmers don’t waste the manure produced by the hogs, it is a very valuable commodity.
    For those who live in town and use a generic dry fertilizer, you are putting more P&K into the ground than farmers.

    1. Greg Seitz Avatar
      Greg Seitz

      Everybody who drinks water has a say.

    2. Dianne Polasik Avatar
      Dianne Polasik

      I grew up in Iowa close to farms with hogs in Cedar County. This is NOTHING like a regular farm. Do your research on how these CAFO’s have polluted Iowa waters and made the land toxic. Look up Smithfield farms and read about who will really own this hog farm. It is Wan Long, a billionaire from China. Ask Mr. Long where much of this meat production will go. Ask Mr. Long if he has visited the land and waters this will impact. Ask how he will protect the St Croix River snd our waters.

  4. […] of the rules could be a factor in future proposals in the St. Croix River watershed. A recent application to house 26,000 hogs in Burnett County would also produce large amounts of manure to be spread in areas with shallow […]

  5. Jon Erik Kingstad Avatar
    Jon Erik Kingstad

    Great article. The laws, the rules and the courts have been cued up for this shot by the American Legislative Exchange, the Wisconsin Legislature and the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the corporate factory farming complex, Cargill, Bayer, Dupont, ADM and others. And Hormel too (which owns Applegate, which advertises “Humane Treatment” of the hogs it slaughters). There’s no economic or other logical or sane reason for factory “farms” which this proposal is for. This hog raising and slaughtering operation will draw hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from the groundwater aquifer and return it in the form of contaminated runoff in the manure spread from the hogs confined at this operation. The well for Emerald Township in St. Croix County, where a similar confined livestock operation was approved, has been contaminated with nitrate from the manure spread by this facility.

    Don’t assume your elected representatives will oppose this proposal. Even if they want to, the rules and laws have been so skewed by the Legislature and Supreme Court in Madison that it will be an uphill battle at this point. The deadline for approving the permit application is set at 90 days by state law, which means about mid-August, 2021. Unless people in the area are prepared to organize and oppose this monstrous project with their time and their financial resources immediately, it will be approved and will be built. If or rather when it does, people will wonder how it happened. You cannot count on your representatives in Burnett County, Madison or anywhere else to stand up against this without them knowing you are against this. You must take a stand now and let these representatives know with your time and your treasure that you are opposed to factory farming in Burnett County and Wisconsin.


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Company applies for permit to operate ‘hog factory’ in Trade River watershed