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Guest Column: Pollution problems at Larson Acres dairy

July 13, 2011

By Tony Ends

Illinois Rep. Jim Sacia recently held up in your publication Larson Acres, Inc., which operates a 5,000-cow dairy near where I live and farm in southern Wisconsin. He commended it to you as a positive example of an industrial dairy operation.

In fact, this dairy has been engaged in court fights with its local town board and rural residents for 10 years. The town and citizen cases, which seek water, health and safety protections for the public, are documented in circuit, appeals and state Supreme Court records. You can even view much of the documentation online at the state Supreme Court website (Adams v. Larson Acres, Inc.). I have nothing against the Larson Acres farming families. Yet, for all families living in the vicinity of huge industrial dairy operations, I must share with you details Mr. Sacia’s viewpoints omit.

Larson Acres’ files with the state Department of Natural Resources show a more than 30,000-gallon liquid manure spill from a broken hose clamp near Allen Creek in Rock County, emergency spreading of liquid manure on frozen ground when a massive slurry at that site was overflowing, and evidence of a ditch a game warden discovered running brown into Allen Creek from this slurry.

A team of scientists for the local town documented in Norwegian Creek at Larson Acres’ huge heifer operation 2 miles from my farmstead, the highest levels of nitrate pollution — more than 20 times higher than what the EPA calls unfit to drink — ever recorded in Wisconsin. Dangerous nitrate levels directly attributed to Larson Acres’ application of millions of gallons of liquid manure were also found in the property’s well and two adjacent wells. Phosphorus levels on more than half Larson Acres’ land base — several thousand acres — were five times what they should be. The ground was saturated from fall and spring liquid manure applications.

Larson Acres was directly represented on the task force that drafted a 2004 state law stripping all Wisconsin rural towns and counties of the right to deny permits to industrial-scale livestock facilities. It helped orchestrate the measure’s passage into law and then sat on the technical advisory committee that laid out rules for the law’s implementation. It is now objecting to any conditioning of its farming practices under the law before the state Supreme Court.

The Wisconsin Lakes Association, Wisconsin Towns Association, Town of Dunn, Dane County, Midwest Environmental Advocates and others have joined the local township in friend of the court briefs. They all support the local town’s rights to condition Larson Acres Inc.’s permit for its 5,000-cow dairy operation. They all recognize what the respected scientists who studied Larson Acres’ operation found — grave, life-threatening damage being done to ground and surface water from too much liquid manure being concentrated in a livestock operation that keeps growing and growing.

If this is what can be expected from industrial dairy operations such as Rep. Sacia holds up as exemplar, then our water, protection of public health, fundamental rights to local control and oversight are imperiled. Sacia’s insights from visits to huge dairy operations tragically ignore the health and safety problems those of us who live near these facilities must grapple with every day of our lives. For the sake of our children — for all children — I urge more balanced, impartial and complete accounts be used to set the course of agriculture and public health for our region.

Tony Ends farms with his wife and family  in Brodhead (Rock County), Wis. He is active in the Green Rock Citizens for Clean Water and Green Rock Audubon Society, which advocate for public health and safety in use of natural resources.

From the July 13-19, 2011 issue

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