The Polk County Board last week approved a resolution supporting agriculture of all types and sizes, as long as those farms comply with regulations.

The resolution was penned in the wake of contentions over a proposal for a 26,000-hog farm in Burnett County’s Trade Lake, followed by that county setting a yearlong moratorium on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).

District 1 Supervisor Brad Olson proposed the Resolution in Support of Agriculture as Polk County Board Chair Dean Johansen pursued a six-month moratorium on new or expanding farms with more than 500 “animal units.” 

The moratorium did not make the board’s August 20 agenda, but Polk County residents commented on both proposals. 

Those who spoke in opposition to the moratorium cited farms’ economic contributions to the local economy and the demanding efforts of farming. 

“Farmers work extremely hard to provide for our community and they put their money back into our community,” Mattea Johnson of Osceola. “The prices they pay for things keep going up and returns keep going down. … Voting for this moratorium is disrespectful to farmers who work really hard, give a lot back to this community and pay of tax dollars.”

Others pointed out that CAFOs are high tech and highly regulated.

“A lot of people likely picture 500 animals crammed into small spaces giving off an awful odor, when in reality these farms are modern, high-tech facilities,” said Mikayla Peper of Osceola. “These barns can be armed with automated scrapers, fan or sprinkler systems to keep the cows cool in summer, robot milkers to ensure consistent and personalized care for each cow, comfortable bedding and all the food they can eat and water they can drink.”

Wilfred Owens, a Lorain Township farmer who runs one of five CAFOs in Polk County, pointed to the expense of meeting regulations.

“The rules are very expensive for us to meet. In the past two years we’ve spent $3 million to meet their rules. You can’t tell me or anybody that has a CAFO that we’re not a heavily regulated industry, and they keep putting more and more regulations on us.”

Those who spoke against the “Resolution in Support of Agriculture,” including several small-scale farmers, expressed concern that the resolution would invite corporate farms from outside of Wisconsin.

“I’m concerned that the resolution before you tonight is sending a welcome message to foreign corporate hog factory developers,” said hog farmer Tamara Johnson. “I worry about the risk factory hog farms pose to my hogs and I worry about the risk of pollution from these facilities reaching the lakes and streams.”

Some challenged the notion that farms must grow to survive.

“Farms like ours still exist,” said Amery farmer Emily Hanson, who raises sheep for meat and wool, and grows organic vegetables. “Many folks will argue that farms have to get big in order to survive. I make my living farming and I understand that it’s hard to make enough to cover the bills, that it’s always hard work, but I also know that the march toward larger and larger farms is not inevitable. We don’t have to allow large out-of-state agriculture conglomerates to come in and set up shop.”

Board supervisors were split on whether to approve the concept of farms without any upper limit on scale.

“In the last 50 years, in all of Wisconsin and across the nation, there’s been a mass exodus of farm children,” said the resolution’s author, Supervisor Olson. “… Nobody has come home from their big city jobs. There’s no one willing to do what we in agriculture are doing. This resolution is big enough to include everybody in agriculture. … This includes the smallest farm. It includes the biggest one.” 

“I certainly don’t want to shut down our farm economy,” countered Michael Prichard, noting that the moratorium was not designed to shut down existing farms in the county. “I do however have a very strong feeling about protection of our environment, about clean water and responsible farming styles.”

Prichard asked to table the resolution for a month and consider it in tandem with the moratorium proposal. 

Ultimately the board decided not to do so and passed the resolution on a voice vote.

Other business

• The board acknowledged the resignation of Deputy Administrator Andrea Jerrick. More coverage is planned for a future issue of the Sun.

• Updates were given on recent storm response, the county’s lime quarry and efforts of the Polk County Economic Development Corporation.

• The board approved a resolution to establish a disaster fund to track expenses related to the July 19 storm, and adopted a master fee schedule for the 2020 budget.

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