Traveling across the Midwest, you will inevitably run into the smell of a cattle or hog operation. Every time I run across that smell I think of the quote my father used to use, “That is the smell of money.” One can grow accustomed to the smell when living and/or working on a farm or ranch; some even appreciate it.
However, while many want to enjoy a rural lifestyle, they do not want to live with or deal with the smell and other potential consequences of farming and ranching. To solve this growing conflict many states and communities developed livestock facility siting laws to regulate where such facilities are built and how they operate. Siting laws vary from state to state and even community to community which can be confusing to an operator looking to expand an operation or re-locate an operation. For example, Nebraska counties have a lot of leeway to determine how agricultural land is used, while the Iowa Animal Agriculture Compliance Act generally governs the location and operation of Iowa livestock facilities.
Presently, the Wiconsin Supreme Court is reviewing a case between Larson Acres Inc. and the small town of Magnolia. Magnolia granted Larson Acres’ permit to expand and operate a 2,900 heifer facility, but with special conditions. Magnolia believed Larson Acres was responsible for the town’s water pollution problems and included conditions such as monthly on site water-quality tests and crop rotation strategies. In 2006, Larson Acres appealed to the Livestock Facility Siting Review Board claiming the conditions went beyond the scope of Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law.
The Board struck down several of the conditions ruling Magnolia had exceeded its authority. The parties have since been going to back and forth in state court on the issue of whether a town can hold a livestock operation to a higher environmental standard than mandated by state law. The arguments are simple; Magnolia wants to control what is going on in their backyard while operators want state-wide consistency and predictability. For more information on the case check out the GazetteXtra article.
Siting laws are here to stay as available farmland is pinched by an urban population that does not care for agriculture’s “smell of money”. Operators need to determine whether state or local authority governs their operation. It will be interesting to see which side Wisconsin lands.