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Industrial dairy farming is taking over in Wisconsin, raising environmental concerns

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The most extensive audit of dairy farming spreading practices done in 2017 found that more than a quarter of CAFO inspections turned-up some violations of manure environmental requirements.

LEE BERGQUIST: ‘Concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are growing rapidly and taking over an increasing share of the Wisconsin’s milk production. Often referred to as industrial or mega-farms, they can house thousands of cows in massive metal buildings. Cows are milked three times a day in an operation that runs around the clock and tankers full of milk head in and out at all hours. Some newer industrial buildings run the length of a half-dozen football fields; farmers have been known to fly drones inside to get a bird’s-eye view of their operations.

The average size of a Wisconsin dairy farm is about 150 cows. Farms qualify as CAFOs when their milk-producing herds reach 700. Such large operations are a relatively new phenomenon in Wisconsin. The number of these industrial dairy farms in the state has jumped 55% in less than a decade, to 279 farms, Department of Natural Resources figures show. Farms with 500 or more cows had 41% of the state’s cow population in 2017, up from 3% in 1997, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture…

Their massive milking operations, popularized in California, shatter the traditional model of Wisconsin farms. With so many cattle, they run the risk of contaminating groundwater and overwhelming lakes, rivers and streams with runoff pollution while making it harder for smaller farms to compete… Dairy cows are veritable waste machines; on average they excrete nearly 17 gallons of manure and urine a day. While cities use sewage treatment systems to remove contaminants, most farmers store a mix of manure, urine and water in lagoons and typically spread it across crop fields in spring and fall…

Arlin Karnopp doesn’t drink the water in his house. Taped to the refrigerator is a sign that says, “Do Not Use.” He’s afraid his grandchildren will fill their cups from the ice dispenser on the door. Since 2015, results of his well tests show potentially harmful bacteria and nitrates. Karnopp blames manure spread by large dairy farms on a ridge next to his property. “Everything rolls downhill,” said Karnopp, 67, a retired over-the-road truck driver. He lives in dairy-intensive Kewaunee County, where cattle exceed people by about 5 to 1. “I’m very disgusted,” he said…

The most extensive audit of spreading practices in recent years, done in 2017 by the DNR, found that more than a quarter of CAFO inspections turned up some violations of manure application requirements. In August 2018, a lethal combination of manure spreading and heavy rains severely damaged miles of the Sheboygan River near Malone in Fond du Lac County. In just one 575-foot section, DNR employees found 40 dead northern pike – some as long as 30 inches, according to agency records. In a small offshoot of the river, scores of dead fish littered the surface where the last remaining oxygen would have been found’.  SOURCE…

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