Guest Column: Environmental impact of CAFO expansion overlooked

By Greg Farnham
Commissioner, Lake Sinissippi Improvement District, Hustisford, Wisconsin, and Coordinator, Rock River Trail Initiative

I ask that you take a minute and read my e-mail exchange (below) with Professor Anna Haines, director of the Center for Land Use Education at UW-Stevens Point. I’m not critical of Professor Haines, but I am critical of the process.

My years in the dairy and food industry and with our lake management district have taught me that while industrial agriculture has the potential for good, all too often its influence is manifested as a pernicious and corrosive systemic force, unalterably opposed to that which is worthy and beneficial in our environment and our human condition.

I find that our universities are not immune to the negative influence of agriculture, and regrettably, many of our elected officials soon fall under its sway. Our groundwater, surface water, the air we breathe, the health of our rural residents and the well-being of our rural communities are underfoot of the relentless and unyielding march of industrial agriculture.

Unless concerned folks can bring about significant change, I’m afraid the unimpeded expansion of agriculture in this state will not bode well for any of us.

E-mail 1 (from Greg Farnham to Anna Haines)

To: Professor Anna Haines


I reviewed the new publication on Water, part of the Wisconsin Land Use Megatrends published by the Center for Land Use Education. While on the CLUE website, I also reviewed the publication on Agriculture.

While I recognize the tremendous amount of research, creativity and hard work required to produce such publications, I am surprised and disappointed with what appear to me to be important omissions in both publications.

Water has a section on human and environmental health, while Agriculture has a similar section titled environmental and human health impacts. However, in neither section did I find identification and discussion of the trend to more and larger CAFOs (concentrated animal feeding operations) and the significant negative impacts of disposal of increasing quantities of manure from these dairy and other livestock operations on the quality of our groundwater and surface water resources and on the health of our rural residents and well-being of their communities.

Technical and popular media are chock-a-block with articles on:

• The karst geology of shallow, fractured bedrock underlying much of southern Wisconsin and its susceptibility to pollution from land-applied manure and industrial wastes;

• Contamination of private wells by ground infiltration of land spread manure;

• Manure runoff from spreading fields and livestock feed lots to streams, rivers and lakes;

• An exploding dairy manure digester in Waunakee and manure spills throughout the state;

• The human health risks from aerial spray irrigation of livestock manure;

• Controversy over the CAFO siting regulation of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection;

• Efforts by citizen groups at town and county levels to enact ordinances to protect their health and homes from CAFO expansions and at the state level to adopt supportive legislation;

• The million-gallon discharge from an over-topped manure tank to the Little Eau Pleine River in Marathon County and the accompanying $464 fine by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources; and

• Insufficient and inadequate permitting and regulatory actions by Wisconsin DNR and Department of Health Services to protect air and water resources and public health from CAFO operations.

How could the CAFO manure issue be overlooked in a discussion of key trends affecting human and environmental health in both Water and Agriculture publications?

I also believe the publication on Agriculture would have been more effective and timely with recognition of current impacts and trends of CAFO operations on land use practices and economics in our rural communities: Declining residential real estate values in CAFO country; abandoned homes; residents leaving our rural communities because of polluted drinking water and odors from toxic compounds; acquisition by CAFOs of former residential properties; damage to roads and infrastructure in townships; polluted surface waters and their impact on fish, wildlife and sportsmen activities; effects on non-farm businesses in rural communities; and impacts on local and state efforts to encourage tourism and recreational use in the Wisconsin countryside and on its waterways.

I encourage UWSP-CLUE to find a way to adequately address the megatrend of expanding CAFOs and manure disposal and the impacts to our state.


Greg Farnham, Commissioner

Lake Sinissippi Improvement District

Hustisford, Wisconsin (Dodge County)

E-mail 2 (from Anna Haines in response to Greg Farnham’s first e-mail [‘E-mail 1’])

Dear Mr. Farnham,

Thank you for your e-mail with your concerns with CAFOs.

The purpose of the Land Use Megatrends is to give a broad overview of a land use or a type of land use that has state-wide impacts. Because of this broad overview, the publication cannot address every issue of concern. We hope that readers of the publication will want to delve more deeply into topics for which they have concerns.

CAFOs are a particular type of agriculture and we don’t address it as a megatrend. In the Agriculture Megatrends ( on page 5 Figure 9, the map shows the then current state of CAFO locations. We did not specifically target CAFOs or any other agricultural practice (other than organic, in part because of its growth in Wisconsin). The topics within the agriculture megatrends is to give a broad overview of the spatial, demographic, and other issues that local government decision-makers may be faced. We also discuss animal wastes as an energy source on page 8, excess nutrients (including manure) and their impacts on water quality on page 11, and livestock facility siting and agricultural runoff standards on page 14. You raise many important points, but this particular publication was not appropriate to cover that topic in detail.

In terms of the Water Megatrends issue, the various authors chose the topics that were of most concern at a state-wide level. CAFOs and manure are not addressed specifically. The policy section briefly discusses water pollution (p.14), where point and non-point water sources of water pollution are the focus.

Here’s how DNR is addressing the issue:

Here’s how the Sierra Club addresses it:

And here’s how Cooperative Extension is involved in the issue:

Again, thank you for making me aware of your concerns. I hope the additional resources are of use.


Anna Haines

Professor and Director

Center for Land Use Education

800 Reserve St.

College of Natural Resources

University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point

Stevens Point, WI 54481

E-mail 3 (from Greg Farnham in response to Anna Haines’ e-mail [‘E-mail 2’])

Thank you, Anna.

With due respect, I can’t think of another trend since the end of World War II that has had more impact on rural land use and water, land and air resources than development of industrial-scale agriculture, including CAFO livestock operations. And particular to Wisconsin has been industry and government efforts to accelerate the growth of the dairy industry. From a handful of 1,000-animal-unit farms a decade ago when the livestock siting rules went into effect to today’s 253 livestock CAFOs, with, in some cases, over 10,000 animal units, and applications for 12 additional CAFOs under way, the expansion continues unabated. And the DNR is now entertaining applications from Iowa swine farm owners to establish swine CAFOs in the southwest of Wisconsin in an attempt by the owners to evade the porcine epidemic diarrhea virus.

You indicate the CLUE publication on agriculture megatrends “ … is to give a broad overview of the spatial, demographic, and other issues that local government decision-makers may be faced.” Adams County has already adopted an ordinance to prohibit aerial spray irrigation of manure. Currently, public hearings are being conducted in Juneau, Kewaunee and Wood counties by county land and water conservation committees to consider ordinances to prohibit CAFO establishment, prohibit aerial manure spray and restrict winter spreading of manure to protect groundwater resources. I know of folks in Portage County opposed to the Wysocki CAFO expansion. A number of townships have adopted or are considering adoption of ordinances to restrict manure applications. Other counties, including my own — Dodge, have held joint hearings with land conservation committees and human services and health boards to consider steps to protect groundwater and public health from livestock manure disposal. And Dodge and other counties have been in touch with the Wisconsin Counties Association regarding these issues.

If your publication had meaningfully addressed CAFOs and manure disposal, then it might be of help for local government decision-makers.

I suspect you know as well as I that the DNR and DATCP have become markedly politicized since 1995 when the state changed the selection process for department secretary from citizens’ board to governor appointment. The same politicization is true of the leadership and direction of UW-Extension, I find. Currently, the political winds are blowing favorably for CAFOs. Matt Moroney, DNR deputy secretary, spoke at the agricultural community engagement seminar last year and was quoted as saying, “The DNR is no longer a strong advocate one way or another on environmental issues.” And further, “… the aim of collaboration between industry and government is to facilitate dairy industry expansion.”

So, in fact, the DNR is sidestepping the issue by facilitating CAFO permits and engaging minimal regulatory oversight, not by protection of natural resources, and thereby exacerbating the environmental and human health impacts.

UW Extension has Dr. Ken Genskow of UW Madison-CALS serving as chairman of the manure irrigation workgroup, which is funded by DNR to codify the practice of aerial spray irrigation of manure — Mr. Moroney is on record as stating the DNR supports aerial manure irrigation. I’m afraid UW-Extension has become just another enabler of industrial-scale agriculture in this state, in my experience.

And that leaves the universities that are supposed to be engaged in “fearless sifting and winnowing.” I’ve written to Kate VandenBosch, dean of UW Madison-CALS. One of the major claims by manure irrigation proponents in CALS, DNR, DATCP and the producers is that drop nozzles will be used on irrigation systems and set only a few inches above the plants to gently irrigate the liquid manure with minimal off-field drift. The term “precision irrigation” is used by the proponents to describe the irrigation equipment and operation.

The facts tell a different story — there is nothing precise or safe with aerial manure spray. The photos attached [see photo] were taken June 28th at the Wysocki dairy CAFO in the Town of Armenia, Juneau County. The operator has the pumps open full throttle with high-pressure end guns spraying manure into the air high and wide.
The facts tell a different story — there is nothing precise or safe with aerial manure spray. The photos attached [see photo] were taken June 28th at the Wysocki dairy CAFO in the Town of Armenia, Juneau County. The operator has the pumps open full throttle with high-pressure end guns spraying manure into the air high and wide.

The facts tell a different story — there is nothing precise or safe with aerial manure spray. The photos attached [see photo] were taken June 28th at the Wysocki dairy CAFO in the Town of Armenia, Juneau County. The operator has the pumps open full throttle with high-pressure end guns spraying manure into the air high and wide.

I find the claims by CALS regarding the practice of aerial manure irrigation are disingenuous. Thus, I believe CALS is also sidestepping the issue by ignoring the negative implications.

Our Wisconsin universities appear strangely silent on the need for resource protection and steps to safeguard public health with regard to manure disposal.

Not so other universities. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have stated, “A growing body of evidence has implicated the generation and management of manure from intensive livestock operations in the spread of infectious disease (including antibiotic-resistant strains), the introduction of microbial and chemical contaminants into ground and surface waters, impacts to air quality, and the wide range of adverse health, social, ecological and economic outcomes that result from these events.” (March 27, 2014)

And from a technical article by researchers with Yale University and the University of Connecticut, “The increasing prevalence of antibiotic resistance among bacteria is one of the most intractable challenges in 21st-century public health. Microbiomes of farm animals are reservoirs of antibiotic resistance genes, which may affect distribution of antibiotic resistance genes in human pathogens.” (April 24, 2014)

And where is the faculty of UW Stevens Point on these issues? I remain perplexed how as part of UW Stevens Point College of Natural Resources CLUE would overlook the resource implications of CAFO expansion across the state and disposal of ever-expanding quantities of livestock manure and the consequent effects on our residents and their communities.

The problems that await Wisconsin’s CAFO counties

By Greg Farnham
Commissioner, Lake Sinissippi Improvement District, Hustisford, Wisconsin, and Coordinator, Rock River Trail Initiative

Dodge County officials and Dodge County Lakes Group:

Concerned residents of Wood County are fighting plans for a new dairy CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] of 6,000 animal units and 42 high-capacity wells in Saratoga Township in the central sands area.

A number of county residents recently traveled to Kewaunee County and attended the public hearing before the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation Committee to consider restrictions on manure spreading in shallow bedrock karst regions of the county. The Wood County folks interviewed and filmed Kewaunee residents who testified at the committee hearing and who were willing to meet in their homes and businesses and talk about the horrors of living with well water and surface waters contaminated by manure disposal of the 16 CAFOs in the county.

This video [see URL below] is powerful testimony of the problems in Kewaunee County and the fact that the same problems await Wood County, Dodge County and all other CAFO counties. Kewaunee County folks emphasize that the problems of manure disposal and water contamination were recognized by them 10 years ago when the expansion of CAFOs began. The county took no action, and the state refused to take action. The position of our state government in this matter is unconscionable, in my view.

I encourage you to watch the video — it is 22 minutes long (a moment to download) — and experience the anguish and heartbreak of the human faces that are being trod upon by the dairy and livestock industry, DNR, DATCP [Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection], DHS [Wisconsin Department of Health Services] and some of our legislators in Madison.

I have no doubt the Kewaunee experience awaits us in Dodge County if we close our eyes and ears and pretend it won’t happen or that the state will take care of us. I encourage you to share this video with your neighbors and friends. The more people who understand the problems and risks to their homes and families, the better the chances of taking constructive action.

E-mail response from Susan Turner to Greg Farnham

A very compelling documentary of why we are participating on this list serve.

Thank you to all that made the above link/film possible. You are so brave and wonderful. Our future generations will have documentation that we really tried for them.

From the Sept. 3-9, 2014, issue

4 thoughts on “Guest Column: Environmental impact of CAFO expansion overlooked

  • September 3, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Mr. Farnham makes the fatal flaw leveraged by a lot of environmental-fundamentalists: He uses a tidal wave of words and unconnected arguments (I count no fewer than 12 different types of attacks on farming in his “column”) to cover up the fact that, increasingly, this movement is out of step with modern science.
    I also question whether or not he stepped on Professor Haines’ privacy rights by disclosing an e-mail exchange that I’m pretty sure she had no idea he would make public. Just sayin.
    Mr. Farnham’s diatribes cherry pick data to present a damning case founded on fear not facts. It doesn’t take a Rhodes Scholar to also sense a whiff of desperation in his manifesto.
    I won’t do a point by point rebut, thus repeating Mr. Farnham’s “Doth protest too much” sin, I’ll simply say that he is on the wrong side of science and all the huffing and puffing and hand-wringing won’t change the facts.

    • September 3, 2014 at 6:34 pm

      I would remind Mr Parker that it is science that has tested nearly 30% of wells in Kewaunee County as unfit to drink from (and as we are reminded in the video, dangerous to wash with if one has an open wound).
      The reason for Mr Farnam’s “12 different types of attacks on farming” is not that he is ignoring the science. This is not a scientific journal (though the dangers alluded to and spoken of have been documented in plenty), this is a guest column. This is the place to tell a wider audience of the hazards of the many hazards of keeping far too many animals producing far too much manure, on not enough land. This is compounded by the Karst geological features in Kewaunee County as well as other areas of the state that can create direct conduits to groundwater, if not taken into account and avoided.

  • September 3, 2014 at 11:47 pm

    The “diatribes” you refer to Mr. Parker are nothing to make light of. The data is not cherry picked. In fact, the accurate data referenced in the letter by Greg Farnham is just the tip of the colossal iceberg of current research documenting the grave social, economic, environmental and health threats posed by intensive animal agriculture practices. Your comments fail to reference peer reviewed research in support if your position. I challenge you to offer sound research data that proves the unchecked growth of intensive animal agriculture enhances the local ecology and poses no threat to worker and neighbor health. Karen Hudson (farmer and neighbor of a CAFO)

  • September 4, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    Christopher Parker? Is that really you? Long time no see…

    So tell me, how scientific is it to use taxpaying citizens as human guinea pigs? To subject non willing subjects to an arsenal of chemicals, properties and businesses devalued, all for one industry is a crime.
    So, what’s in it fer ya?
    Glad to see you again.

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