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States search for strategies to resolve conflicts between livestock farms, neighbors

by Carolyn Orr ~ September 2017 ~ Stateline Midwest »
Intensive animal production is an $86 billion industry, but growing conflicts between confinement livestock farms and some neighbors has spilled over into legislatures across the Midwest.
Indiana Sen. Susan Glick, chair of an interim committee studying whether there is a need for special regulations for concentrated animal-feeding operations, is among those seeking ways to “bridge a divide between modern livestock farmers and some rural communities” over farm siting.
The clustering of cattle, hogs or poultry makes selection of locations for larger farms critical. Geology, ground and surface water, roads, neighbors and wind direction all factor into siting decisions.
If nutrients will be released into water, the farm will need a federal permit. That permitting authority has been delegated to states, but less than 2 percent of livestock farms discharge from their property. States are also responsible for regulating siting, manure application and environmental ordinances for livestock farms, and vary greatly in how they regulate them.
Wisconsin Sen. Janis Ringhand says, “Local governments in my district would like control over livestock siting because of the peculiarities of the geography of the karst soil.” But the Dairy Business Association of Wisconsin is suing the state, claiming that its pollution requirements are tougher than federal law.
Wisconsin law provides uniform requirements for confinement operations that cannot be exceeded by local law and strongly protects those farms from lawsuits. This is one of three ways state legislatures can preempt local control of CAFO siting; states can also prohibit some degree of local zoning or health ordinances for agricultural operations, or they can use strong “right to farm” laws to supersede local ordinances.
Under Ohio’s zoning law, townships can’t prohibit the use of land for agriculture or the construction or use of livestock buildings; however, Rep. John Patterson says, Ohio’s own program ensures that CAFOs have the best management practices.
Iowa uses a “master matrix,” a scoring system that evaluates the siting of livestock facilities. Counties must voluntarily accept the matrix to have any input, but the state has the final decision. This year, 13 counties requested changes in the matrix, while SF 447 (signed into law in March) gave farms added protection from nuisance lawsuits.
North Dakota and Kansas have corporate-farming bans and siting standards that counties cannot exceed. Michigan’s preemption comes from its “Right to Farm Act,” which is so strong that in 2014, the state removed the protection from small farms in residential areas.
In Minnesota and South Dakota, local governments have broad constitutional zoning powers, but both states require permits for water usage beyond set levels. Minnesota also requires a full environmental review for farms with more than 1,000 animals.
And in Nebraska, which also has local control, LB 106 (2015) directed the development of a voluntary matrix for counties making siting decisions.


Article written by Carolyn Orr, staff liaison to the Midwestern Legislative Conference Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee.