Whether speaking at a public meeting or in a discussion with other people, these ideas may help focus the discussion or answer questions that are being raised by CAFO proponents. So be prepared to stand up for your rights as property owners. Feel free to add your own analogies and concerns and let’s make our voices heard.
1) Local farmers are being snowed by the CAFO interests. Most farmers in the area are not in excess of the thousand animal unit limit that triggers the need to file a WPDES permit and to which most of these moratoriums and potential increased regulations will apply. (Do note that the proposed moratorium for Polk County applies to operations with 500 or more animal units.)
2) What benefit does a local farmer get from a huge operation like this coming into their backyard? Probably the same benefit a rural local hardware stores gets from a Walmart or Home Depot moving into their neighborhood. Seriously, the only one likely benefiting is the farmer selling his property to the CAFO and the same guy who gets to reduce his fertilizer costs by getting manure for free and spreading it on farm fields in the area.
3) While they likely aren’t going to benefit from the siting of a CAFO in their locality, if local farmers support an operation coming into our backyard– and there is a problem– the backlash is definitely going to affect all agricultural operations. So a moratorium and tighter regulations are actually to the agricultural community’s benefit, because it likely won’t affect their operation and will protect them from adverse consequences of a breach by a large CAFO.
4) Tourism! They want to talk about the financial benefit from agriculture. Talk about the financial benefit from tourism and those who own vacation homes. (Why not suggest amending the proposed referendum to include support for the environment and for all sizes of tourism operations, etc.) Moratoriums and additional regulations are not going to kill agriculture in Polk County– but destroying the environment and stinking up the countryside will kill tourism–and that will affect everyone in Polk County, including the farmers.
5) To those who argue that they don’t want control over what they can do on or with their property– it’s not what people are doing with their own property that’s the problem. It’s that commercial operations directly affect what neighbors can do with their own property. It affects whether they can leave their windows open or sit on their decks because of the stench. It affects whether they can drink water from their own wells because of ground water contamination. It affects whether they can swim or fish in local lakes and streams because of E. coli or algae blooms resulting from surface runoff of manure.
6) Use the example of a neighboring land owner deciding that they want to start a blasting operation, causing foundations of nearby homes to crack and debris to fly onto neighboring property. No one would say that’s okay. But if that happens, you can sue for those damages—whereas, thanks to Wisconsin Statutes §823.08, suits for damage caused by agricultural entities are virtually impossible to bring in Wisconsin. So those entities better be well regulated at the get-go. The other example would be if someone decides they want to start a nightclub in the house right next door and crank the music until 3 o’clock in the morning. That’s all activity happening on their property, but no one would say that’s okay.
7) Finally, those that oppose CAFOs in the area are concerned that it’s going to affect the groundwater, surface water and air quality. They are concerned that it will cause the spread of disease and the proliferation of antibiotic resistant bacteria. They worry that it will cause local real property values to drop. Now despite the fact that there is a wealth of scientific literature that confirms that these risks are real, those few farmers who support the siting of a CAFO in our area claim that these risks will not materialize. But as we all sit here today nobody knows. The board members cannot say with any confidence that there won’t be runoff into our lakes and streams. They cannot say that there’s a major spill, it won’t cause a E. coli outbreak in a local lake or seep into our groundwater. They can’t say whether the risk of antibiotic resistant bacteria is truly a concern. What they can do, however, is take the time to study these issues and see whether they are truly a risk to our health, environment and economy. Since they don’t know the answers, the intelligent and responsible path is to take the time and do the research to determine the answers.