Pollution-plagued factory farm permitted to double in size

DNR approves Emerald Sky application to increase cow herd — and manure production.




2 minute read

Barns at Emerald Sky Dairy (Greg Seitz/St. Croix 360)

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has approved the expansion of Emerald Sky Dairy, in the upper reaches of the Willow River watershed. The concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) will soon have about twice the number of cattle housed at the site, although it has been the site of several manure spills or runoff events that have contaminated nearby streams, wetlands, and likely groundwater in the past decade.

Under its new proposal, the operation would expand from 1,600 to 3,300 milking cows, and from producing 17.4 million to 42.2 million gallons of manure each year. Based on the new plans, the dairy would go from having more than a year’s worth of manure storage available, to about eight months of storage. The state requires at least six months. The manure could be spread on some 5,300 acres in the surrounding area.

The expansion has received significant opposition from neighbors and environmental groups. At a public hearing on the proposal last summer, 17 individuals spoke — all opposed. Numerous written comments were also submitted, as well as a petition signed by 145 people. After a 2019 manure spill caused by Emerald Sky, St. Croix County asked the DNR to enforce CAFO rules more swiftly and strictly.

The petition submitted to the DNR requested five things to help detect and prevent pollution: Monitoring wells, cover crops, a cap of 1,700 animals allowed in such karst bedrock, quarterly manure spreading audits, and quarterly visits by DNR enforcement personnel.

Concerns voiced by various commenters include pollution of lakes and streams. They pointed to numerous previous problems at Emerald Sky, and said an expansion would only increase the risk of future pollution.

“The department can only enforce existing rules and regulations currently in place,” the DNR responded.

A nutrient management plan, required as part of permit applications, describes how manure is stored, where and when the waste is applied to crop fields, and other details. The DNR says Emerald Sky’s plan meets requirements.

“A CAFO nutrient management plan is intended to minimize the risk of phosphorus and nitrogen delivery to waters of the state (surface water and groundwater). Emerald Sky Dairy has provided the department with a nutrient management plan that complies with the applicable standards and regulations.”

The agency now says, although Emerald Sky has had problems, the dairy currently operates within regulations.

“The department has taken enforcement actions against Emerald Sky Dairy during the current permit-term,” the agency stated. “The department has worked through the permit violations and conducted several site inspections since the violations occurred. Inspected areas include the production area, cropped fields, and the wetland complex directly south of the dairy. Emerald Sky Dairy is in compliance with their WPDES CAFO permit.”


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26 responses to “Pollution-plagued factory farm permitted to double in size”

  1. K Fox Avatar
    K Fox

    Is it true that this dairy is owned by Tula Dairies out of Nebraska? Why oh why would Wisconsin risk polluting its pristine rivers by a Nebraska company?

    1. Chris Avatar

      They have one in Rock county too

  2. Joshua Doll Avatar
    Joshua Doll

    Why do thease dairys think they need to keep expanding? They ant helping any small communities or businesses

    1. Paul Bauman Avatar
      Paul Bauman

      Stop buying dairy products. Problem solved.

      1. Glenda Avatar

        I agree!

  3. DICK SWANSON Avatar

    If this CAFO does produce 42.2 million gallons of liquid manure…it would take about 7,800++ semi-tankers to move it…what you are learning is difficult for all, these factory corp. businesses will get all the animals they ask for…they will get all the high capacity wells they ask for…what they FEAR the most is…NOT HAVING ENOUGH…LAND..! Your weapon in this fight is your land…stop renting it and you will protect your county and your way of life..! Our EPA and DNR can not move fast enough…and your local elected officials do not have the ” stones for the fight “…this leave you the land owners…it may be too late for more local ordinances, etc…but without your LAND for their polluted waste they are OUT OF BUSINESS..! They operate under a Wisconsin issued permit…that permit title is…WISCONSIN POLLUTION DISCHARGE PERMIT…The State is telling us exactly what is being applied onto and into your fields…A POLLUTANT..do you even know what is in it…? This would only take two years or less..! Do you want your county to end up like Kewaunee County…where in a recent county well testing program…over 60% of the test wells…FAILED..!!!

    1. Paul Groves Avatar
      Paul Groves

      The CAFO will never have enough of their own land to spread it on. It’d happen very fast that they’d be up S creek with nowhere to spread it.

      1. Emily Avatar

        The real problem is the DNR doesn’t have enough people to make sure the farm is compliant with manure spreading and they will just saturate areas with too much manure which is why wells get polluted. It is all self monitoring, I was told this by DNR, DATCP and county! Its a bad system and the big factory farm always wins!

  4. Steven Avatar

    How big is too big? When it’s too late?

    1. Rick Avatar

      Already is in plain English

  5. Teresa M Warnke Avatar
    Teresa M Warnke

    How do we change the existing laws and rules that allow these corporations to ruin our world?
    The EPA sells the right to pollute by imposing huge fines.
    I don’t have much time to write letters to whomever was elected to do what’s right on our behalf and have 0 faith in the system because I am a rational intelligent person who sees our nation declining rapidly.

  6. Pat Avatar

    Although they have to expand in order for banks/investors to make their money back. Banks keep giving money bc they know if farm goes down they won’t get back all their money. Also because WI is “the dairy state” our government thinks they need to keep helping big farms. Push milk production and milk prices drop. It’s a double edge sword. Price goes down, expand. Price goes up expand expand. Some of these farmers are idiots. We’d all make more money on milk if they stopped the expansion.

  7. Bobette Ash Avatar
    Bobette Ash

    Factory farms are beyond cruel for all animals, the footage of dairy cows being beaten by a man w/an iron pry bar to the point she drops to her knees!! Every second of their lives are misery & pain! Their are milk alternatives, Almond, Oatmeal, Coconut, Soy they taste great! I refuse to support animal cruelty!

    1. Bill Wahlquist Avatar
      Bill Wahlquist

      I totally understand this article and the points made, but don’t bring in animal cruelty. These animals are well fed and well taken care of. Animal comfort and Animal production go hand in hand . I milked cows for 60 years. Treat your animals well and they produce more, or gain faster, “easy concept.”
      Water contamination is a definite concern. and previous violators should not be allowed to expand for minimum of 10 years .

      1. Larry G Avatar
        Larry G

        Agree, cruelty is rare! My ? is,don’t we need these big farms to.meet demand,with all the small farms going out of business!! How many almonds does it take for a quart?

      2. Joe walleye Avatar
        Joe walleye

        No animal cruelty? They are forced to live their entire life inside. They don’t get to go out and ear grass like cows on small farms do.They live on average about 4-5 years about one third the lifespan as cows on a pasture

  8. Shari Leigh Avatar
    Shari Leigh

    This is beyond comprehension that the city officials literally ignore the peoples voices and the health risks to the environment. In addition the inhumane treatment of factory farms is immoral and unethical beyond words. This is why I stopped all dairy… cruel and evil and destroying environment and crushing the voices of neighbors.

  9. Janis Avatar

    Maybe the answer is more dairy farms run by individuals rather than corporations. Except, most individual farmers have more compassion for their animals than corporations.
    The only thing that matters to corporate farms is their bottom line.
    And the bottom line is important.
    It’s these big factory methane producing farms they are going after.
    3300 cows. You cannot take care of that many.
    My uncle was a dairy farmer. Not on this scale, tho.
    Go back to locally sourced products.

    1. Larry G Avatar
      Larry G

      We tried the individual things! They all went broke,out of business,that’s why we are at this point! If people quit drinkin milk,eatin cheese,we wouldn’t need them!

    2. RaJeana Avatar

      You get it . Source foods locally and this woukdnt be an issue .

  10. Michelle Cross Avatar
    Michelle Cross

    If we are going to keep taking away farm land and shutting down small dairies, then places like this have to get bigger in order to keep up with the fact that we need them for food. It doesn’t take rocket science to know that we HAVE to have farmers. Of we keep shutting down smaller ones then these guys have to get bigger or the rest of us don’t eat. Pretty simple. If we make it easier for the smaller farmers to keep going, then these corporations don’t need to get bigger.

    1. Larry G Avatar
      Larry G

      Right on! Thank you!

  11. Joel Paape Avatar
    Joel Paape

    I love how this place gets to over double in size but a raw milk farmer not hurting the environment in any capacity, giving people REAL milk and the nutrient dense food they WANT out in Pennsylvania gets shut down. Should tell you all you need to know.

  12. Emily Avatar

    We are fighting a similar situation in Washington County in the Town of Trenton. A farm is asking to expand to 2500 units. However, the farmer will have 2-3 parcels that will be rezoned to a CAFO so he could go back after approved and ask for more animal units. The farm is next to the Cedarburg Bog and on the Cedar Creek water shed. We are working very hard to ask the Town not to rezone but the local planning commissioners have known the farmer for years and they just don’t seem interested in how the residents feel. We have over 750 residents in person signatures asking Town not to rezone. This farm is close to areas that are growing so rapidly located only 5 miles from Cedarburg and Grafton polluting many wells and waterways. It’s not the right area for a farm this large. Besides causing large amounts of manure, the smell and air pollution, this farmer needs more land and the only way he will get the required amount of land is to take it from our small farmers! Stop factory farms! Buy local from small farms!

  13. Paul Lawinger Avatar
    Paul Lawinger

    Major source of incentives for these mega farms are government subsidies, mostly hidden. Financing subsidy thru the farm credit system, crop insurance subsidies, and income tax subsidies. No limits on the amount of taxpayer money available to these so called family farms. For the real family farmer? Sorry, not much for you folks.

  14. Paul Lawinger Avatar
    Paul Lawinger

    Major source of incentives for these mega farms are government subsidies, mostly hidden. Financing subsidy thru the farm credit system, crop insurance subsidies, and income tax subsidies. No limits on the amount of taxpayer money available to these so called family farms. For the real family farmer? Sorry, not much for you folks.