A letter directed to the state Department of Ag, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCAP) is pushing for “an urgent material review” of the recently passed ordinance that addresses concentrated agricultural feeding operations (CAFOs) and has also been forwarded to members of the board of trustees in the six towns in Burnett and Polk counties that are involved in the Town Partnership effort to craft a model ordinance on the regulation of certain agricultural operations and practices.

The letter is penned by Chad Zuleger, Government Affairs director of the Dairy Business Association (DBA), citing support by the Edge Dairy Cooperative and co-signed by the owners or partners in several local farm operations, all of whom side with the objections.

According to Zuleger, “These towns have clearly ignored current laws, regulations and related review and approval processes prescribed by our state Legislature and the Department that provide methods local governments may use to regulate farms.”

Zuleger calls the ordinance a “joint effort that was largely one-sided, excluding farm interests altogether, six town governments in Burnett and Polk counties in northwestern Wisconsin have created a model ordinance that claims to legally regulate growing farm operations. It does not,” Zuleger states. “The model ordinance, and subsequently enacted ordinances, go far beyond current rules and regulations applicable to livestock operations.”

The ordinance he cited has been crafted through a so-called Town Partnership between the six towns in the to two counties, which has spent several months crafting the ordinance, which has been sculpted to the specifics of each town. It has been considered for action and passed by the boards already on three of the towns: Lakeland and Eureka in Polk County and the Town of Trade Lake in Burnett County. The three other towns have yet to consider the final product, but are expected to discuss it in the coming weeks, with consideration and possible action to follow. 

According to Zuleger’s letter, they claim the state needs to conduct an urgent review because the ordinance is being applied to farms that do not meet the size threshold necessary for such application, essentially that they are “attempt(ing) to regulate livestock farms illegally.”

Zuleger stated that they doubt the six towns or partnership attorneys have welcomed state review and claim that the issue requires immediate action. 

“The time is of the essence for (DATCAP) to aid in curbing these efforts before more farmers face uncertain and outlandish regulatory measures, such as the ones at hand,” Zuleger stated.

In general, they claim the towns do not have the authority to regulate several aspects of the agricultural operations, specifically that the 500-animal unit threshold is lower than the state allows for such regulations.

“They try to impose regulatory aspects that are dealt with in other areas of the law that farmers otherwise must comply with, such as water use, animal safety and implements of husbandry,” Zuleger said. “Lastly, the towns attempt to regulate operational aspects of a farm, which makes abundantly clear why the towns have altogether evaded Wisconsin’s Livestock Facility Siting Law — because siting cases have proven the law does not allow for that.”

He then cites the state ordinances he says are in conflict with the passed ordinances, while stating that the towns lack the power to regulate such operational aspects.

The letter drew an immediate response from the KnowCAFOS group and attorneys behind the ordinance creation, noting several issues that the letter addresses are technically out of their purview and not applicable to the passed ordinance.    

“According to the DBA, town leaders have no business protecting their people from the negative impacts to health and property values of animal factories,” stated attorney Andrew Marshall, who is the KnowCAFOs Director of Legal Affairs, which offered legal guidance behind the crafting of the ordinance referenced. “The Partnership’s goal is to share the expertise and expenses needed to develop the strongest ordinance possible to protect local public health and property values. The towns cover more than 250 square miles and include real estate valued at more than two-thirds of a billion dollars or $655.5 million.”

Marshall noted that of the six towns involved in the Town Partnership, three of them have already passed their versions of the ordinance. 

“DBA now wants DATCP to use state-paid lawyers to conduct an ‘urgent material review’ of the ordinances … I am not aware of the statute or rule that would allow a third-party lobbying organization to ask the state to spend state tax dollars reviewing local ordinances—particularly in situations like the one involving Trade Lake, where the Town is still operating under a moratorium so that it can finalize its ordinance,” Marshall stated in response. “The fact is that these towns have done the due diligence needed to draft legal ordinances under state law. The Trade Lake ordinance, for example, is supported by a 130-page report that includes over 200 citations to scientific articles and research studies.” 

Marshall said that Wisconsin Statute 93.90 severely hampers local units of governments’ ability to protect public health and property values. But the recent ordinances passed by towns in Burnett and Polk Counties address operations, not siting.

“It’s nice that organizations such as the DBA want to get involved,” Marshall added. “I hope they are equally enthusiastic about asking the state to conduct Environmental Impact Studies for any livestock factories authorized to locate in Wisconsin so that the true impact of these operations on our land, air, and water can be properly assessed before the damage is done.”

The CAFO issue has led to county and local action in both Polk and Burnett counties, and has been a controversial matter for several years, after a proposed 26,000-head swine farrowing operation was proposed in the Town of Trade Lake several years ago.   

“Wisconsin regulations partially address the millions of gallons of feces, urine and process water these factories produce but are poorly enforced,” Marshall said. “Health issues, air pollution, carcass disposal, biosecurity, fire safety and road damage are just some of the other issues our local ordinances address.”

Three towns also involved in the Town Partnership that have yet to consider the draft ordinance, but are expected to take it up in the coming weeks. 

“If corporate farming interests want to do business in our back yards and take advantage of our local resources, then it is entirely appropriate that our local ordinances require these industrial agricultural operations show how they will protect our lakes, wells and farms from contaminants and pathogens,” said Marshall. 


- In full disclosure, the author is an elected official on a town board in Polk County that will be considering a similar version of the CAFO ordinance in the future.