WISCONSIN - Joined by Kay-Johnson Smith, president and CEO of the Animal Agriculture Alliance, and Dan Bahr of the Wisconsin Counties Association (WCA), two farmers also joined a panel discussion about ‘What you need to know about CAFO Moratoriums’ at the Wisconsin Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting. The meeting was held virtually on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 5-6.
The two producers on the panel were Chris Owen, president of the Polk-Burnett County Farm Bureau, and Howard AV Roth of Crawford County. Both counties have enacted CAFO Moratoriums in the last year.
The Animal Agriculture Alliance website describes the group’s mission as “bringing together farmers, ranchers, veterinarians, animal feed companies, animal health companies, processors, allied associations and others involved in getting food from the farm to our forks!
“We’re an industry-united, nonprofit organization that helps bridge the communication gap between farm and fork. We connect key food industry stakeholders to arm them with responses to emerging issues. We engage food chain influencers and promote consumer choice by helping them better understand modern animal agriculture. We protect by exposing those who threaten our nation’s food security with damaging misinformation.”
On their website, Johnson-Smith’s role is described as “to manage the organization’s operations and engage key stakeholders about the importance of modern animal agriculture and to provide strategic guidance to managing activist campaigns.”
The first questionfor the panel was directed to Roth and Owens. “You’ve both had to deal with CAFO Moratoriums – how did the moratoriums come about?”
Roth: It all started back when I applied for the original permit for my current facility. Crawford Stewardship Project is the worst thing that ever happened to Crawford County. When I announced my plans to build a second facility in neighboring Marietta Township, first there was a CAFO Moratorium at the township level. After I started talking to my neighbors, the township rescinded their moratorium. Then the push for a moratorium moved on to the county level. I talked with the county board members, and I thought I had reached enough to vote the moratorium down, but that turned out not to be the case.
Owens: In our area, it started in Burnett County when a group of Iowa producers applied for a permit for a farrowing facility. Activists opposing it said that the facility would damage neighboring property values. In July of this year, the opposition popped into Polk County. It started with a CAFO Moratorium on swine facilities. Most recently, a proposed ordinance coming from Health and Human Services was defeated when the person who wrote it rescinded it.
The second questionwas directed to Kay Johnson-Smith: Nationally, what are the driving factors for these CAFO Moratoriums?
Johnson-Smith: They are driven by activist, anti-business, animal rights groups who have coined the term ‘factory farms.’ They define confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) as factory farms. They capitalize on the fact that many people don’t like corporations. Now the activity has shifted its focus to local government, encouraging ordinances that restrict CAFO’s ability to operate. “We send people to animal rights conferences. Those groups are encouraging activists to go after farms at the local level. Their goal is to create a hodge-podge of regulations at the local level which they use to put pressure on states. It is a strategic push, where animal rights activists have joined forces with environmental activists. Their goal is to prevent growth or siting of CAFOs, and lots of attorneys are making lots of money.”
The third questionwas directed to Dan Bahr of the WCA: What authority do counties have to regulate CAFOs?
Bahr: Zoning authority is the biggest tool in the county toolbox for regulating agriculture. The main thing is for counties to have zoning and a comprehensive plan. My advice is that counties should enact zoning and adopt a comprehensive plan before a controversy arises. Ensure that the decisions that go into these are not political decisions. In doing this, a county may decide that agriculture is appropriate in some places, and not in others. The decisions can then be made “without torches and pitchforks.” Zoning should be fair and equitable, and should ensure consistency in use of the land. Avoid the torches and pitchforks crowd.
The fourth questionwas directed to Roth and Owen: How were you able to get the county board educated and engaged, and influence the outcome?
Roth: Ten years ago when I applied for my first permit, the county Farm Bureau engaged a little bit, but tried to keep their names out of the paper. This most recent time, I thought I had the votes, and was chewed out by county Farm Bureau members. Because my expansion was so far out, I knew I had time to work through the process. The DNR can grant me a permit even with the CAFO Moratorium in place. The anti-CAFO advocates are getting more organized, and their alliances are crossing state lines.
Owen: The Burnett County Farm Bureau stood back from the fight, and that was a mistake. It led to the moratorium in Polk County. Some of our membership stayed on top of it, and hosted a producer round table. The second time the moratorium was up for a vote, it was pulled before it saw committee.
The fifth questionwas directed to Johnson-Smith: Nationally, how do we continue the fight?
Johnson-Smith: Let me give a plug for our website – we have lots of examples on there of defeats to local initiatives. The ‘Right to Farm’ laws are very important. Some states like Georgia are eliminating county level authority over livestock facility siting. Proposals have been popping up in lots of counties, and the activists always put forth the emotional argument that CAFOs will destroy the land and water. The restrictions in Georgia are going to be a fight because counties tend to be protective of local control.
The sixth questionwas also directed to Johnson-Smith: In areas of the country where there has been a CAFO Moratorium, do you see any changes?
Johnson-Smith: Well, CAFOs haven’t disappeared, but if they’re growing, it is in another state. This means that the state with the CAFO Moratorium loses out on the economic growth – the local jurisdiction loses out. For instance, North Carolina hog farms are opening facilities in Iowa now.
The seventh questionwas directed to Dan Bahr from WCA: CAFO Moratoriums are popping up in lots of counties now – do you have any advice for them?
Bahr: I advised Polk County to add a zoning code, which I said they can do under the current laws to ensure consistency. If local regulations don’t conform to state statutes, then there will be lawsuits. My advice to Polk County, in order to avoid litigation was:
“It is advisable for a county to proceed cautiously in adopting a moratorium and provide findings of the necessity of the moratorium prior to its adoption. Such findings may include:
(1) the conditions that give rise for the need for the moratorium;
(2) that no other alternatives exist to the adoption of a moratorium;
(3) what deficiencies the existing land use plans currently have in dealing with the proposed use will be subject to the moratorium;
(4) the severity of the circumstances; and
(5) other evidence documenting the necessity of the moratorium.
“It is also advisable that the county establishes firm timelines for completing its review of conditions precipitating the need for a moratorium and identifies firm deadlines for completing any action deemed necessary. Included in the development of these timelines should be an expiration date that reasonably allows for action to be taken but that is not excessively lengthy. The more specific the rationale for adopting a moratorium, the more legitimate the plan and timelines are and the more reasonable the moratorium is, the more likely the moratorium will be found reasonable by both stakeholders and the courts. Reasonableness can be best supported if the local government or its citizenry is facing a true emergency, such as health and welfare of the community, or if the community is facing a significant new land use proposal that existing regulations were not designed to oversee. Reasonableness also applies to a local government’s progress in carrying out its plan and adhering to its timetables.”
The eighth questionwas also directed to Bahr: Farm Bureau members may have to serve as advocates – do you have any advice for us?
Bahr: Stay in contact with your county board members, and emphasize the importance of agriculture to them. You won’t be the only one talking to them. Read the statutes – the activists do a nice job.
The ninth questionwas directed to all four panelists: Do you have any advice for Farm Bureau members about how to advocate for agriculture?
Roth: You have to keep track of what is happening with your county board and land conservation committees. Be prepared to tell your story – that is extremely important. In Crawford County, I know about half of the county board, but others don’t understand how agriculture has grown in the last 30 years. You also need to follow the issues statewide.
Owen: You have to keep an eye on stuff. It may start in your county, and then move into the next one – it will keep creeping. These people don’t understand farming. Farm Bureau leaders need to talk to their county board members.
Johnson-Smith: I agree with both of you – an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You should build relationships with your board members. Have them out to the farm for a cookout or tour, bring their staff on farm tours. Use the same methods to influence state legislators, retailers and restaurant owners. Most people don’t know a farmer. You should also find and focus on the non-traditional environmental groups with the message that it is better for the land and water to keep the land in farming. Find the reasonable environmental groups. These activist groups portray themselves as local, but they don’t have the community’s best interests at heart. Our Alliance can dig up dirt on them. Before you launch your operation or expansion, you need to have a plan about how you will mitigate nuisances.
Bahr: Two things. First, most rural areas have a weekly paper – read it to stay informed. Second, pay attention to public notices and follow the meeting agendas. Know your elected officials, and consider running for your county board.
The tenth questionwas directed to Roth, Owen and Johnson-Smith: How can producers avoid being caught off guard by activists?
Johnson-Smith: You have to monitor the activists all the time. They are loud, and well-funded, and their goal is to eliminate animal agriculture. They show videos that are probably doctored – you need to be prepared. Our Alliance is here to help. Farms have to be prepared to have conversations, to connect with people around their values and to hear and address people’s concerns in a positive and empathetic way.
Roth: You always have to be polite and nice. The activists don’t care what I say. You have talk to your neighbors and find out what their concerns are.Owen: I really have nothing to add to that.