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‘Right to Harm’ film delivers a timely message in Gays Mills
AV speaks at meeting
CAFO OPERATOR AV Roth speaks at the Marietta Town Board meeting on Monday, Nov. 18. At the meeting, which drew a large crowd, the town board tabled a decision about two agenda items relating to the CAFO moratorium they enacted in August.

GAYS MILLS - Citizens in Marietta Township and Crawford County are currently debating the extent to which CAFOs and their industrial waste management pose a threat to the health, safety and welfare of local residents. 

Marietta Township recently enacted a CAFO moratorium passed by the town board in August. At a meeting on Monday, Nov. 18, the town board voted to table a vote on whether to rescind it.

In a related process, the Crawford County Land Conservation Committee is working with county corporate counsel to draft a CAFO moratorium for consideration by the Land Conservation Committee (LCC) and ultimately, the County Board of Supervisors. The LCC will take the matter up at their next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 10 a.m. at the Crawford County Administration Building in Prairie du Chien.

In this context, almost 50 local residents attended a showing of the film, ‘Right to Harm,’ at the Gays Mills Library on Friday, Nov. 16. Given the situation facing the local community, the film provided a timely depiction of issues facing other communities who have had CAFOs begin operation in their area. It was also a launching point for a community discussion led by Forest Jahnke of Crawford Stewardship Project (CSP).

CSP plans to show the film one more time in another location in the county. Other interested citizens can purchase the rights to do a screening by filling out this form, which can be found at

Petition to county

At the film showing, Jahnke unveiled a petition supporting the LCC’s decision to draft a Crawford County CAFO moratorium and recommend it to the county board for approval. The petition urges the county board to pass the moratorium. 

Eventually, county residents will be able to access the petition online, share it with other interested citizens, and sign it electronically. At this time, the best way to arrange to sign the petition, or to obtain a copy to circulate is to contact Forest Jahnke at, or Eli Mandel at

The text of the petition is as follows:

We are in a rural and family farm crisis

Wisconsin leads the nation in losses of family farms, threatening our rural communities and agricultural legacy. Economic circumstances and misguided policies have driven down prices and incentivized expansion and consolidation, again, at great cost to our rural communities and environment. We need local vision and planning to help us determine the future of agriculture in Crawford County. 

CAFOs are linked to drinking water and air contamination

In eastern Wisconsin, where detailed studies have been done, proximity to liquid manure lagoons and spreading on row crops have been identified as the primary risk factors for drinking water contamination in karst areas, like Crawford County. A high concentration of CAFOs in eastern Wisconsin has coincided with a drinking water crisis. 

Neighbors bear the effects to quality of life, as well as health concerns from odors and other air emissions that include hydrogen sulfide and ammonia.  

We do not know the quality of drinking water in Crawford County 

The ongoing Southwest Wisconsin Groundwater and Geology Study done in Grant, Iowa, and Lafayette Counties has found concerning levels of contamination from nitrates and pathogens, in the first systematic study of regional drinking water. The Driftless Area Water Study, currently developing in Crawford, Vernon and Richland counties will finally fill this information gap in 2020.

Wisconsin has recognized that the current rules do not protect drinking water, but has yet to act 

ATCP 51 ‘Livestock Siting’ is a one-size-fits-all regulation that does not adequately protect groundwater in sensitive areas like Crawford County. Recently, the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) went through a revision process for ATCP 51.  After three review periods, extensive expert and stakeholder input, and DATCP staff revisions, the agency prepared a proposed rule packet. However, the Deputy Secretary of DATCP pulled the proposed ATCP 51 revisions four days before the Board vote. Without board approval, it will likely take years to review and update this law.

The Wisconsin DNR may soon begin updating their sensitive areas designations and creating targeted performance standards, likely to include Crawford County karst areas. A moratorium would help Crawford County bridge the gaps while state and local governments decide how to act. 

CAFOs have economic impacts

Property values have decreased up to 27 percent in close proximity to a CAFO, with lesser reductions within a one- and two-mile radius. CAFOs can also be incompatible with other businesses and land uses, affecting some business, tourism, residential and recreational development. This impact can more than offset any low-paid jobs likely to be brought in by a CAFO. 


We, residents and landowners of Crawford County, call for our County Board of Supervisors to approve a moratorium on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations of 500 animal units or more, create a committee to compile relevant laws and science, and take necessary steps to protect the public health, safety, and welfare. 

Right to Farm

The name of the film shown last Friday, ‘Right to Harm,’ is a play on the name of a law, passed in Wisconsin and many other states in the 1980s, called ‘Right to Farm.’ Retired professor of Agricultural Economics, John Ikerd, who is featured in the film, is an ardent opponent of the CAFO system of production. Nevertheless he shares a point of view with CAFO study group member Bob Mitchell, who is a supporter of AV Roth’s proposed expansion. Both agree that the ‘Right to Farm’ laws provide farming operations great legal protections from neighbors who may see them as ‘nuisances,’ and seek to protect themselves from their harmful effects.

 “We need to discuss the Right to Farm law,” Mitchell contended at the Marietta study group’s September 16 meeting. “That law pretty much overrules everything else.”

The ‘Right to Farm’ law in Wisconsin can be found in Wisconsin Statutes, ch. 823.08, ‘Actions against agricultural uses,’ (ch. 823 is entitled ‘Nuisances’). This section of the statutes describes the subsection’s legislative purpose:

“The legislature finds that development in rural areas and changes in agricultural technology, practices and scale of operation have in-creasingly tended to create conflicts between agricul-tural and other uses of land. The legislature believes that, to the extent possible consistent with good public policy, the law should not hamper agricultural produc-tion or the use of modern agricultural technology. The legislature therefore deems it in the best interest of the state to establish limits on the remedies available in those conflicts which reach the judicial system. The legislature further asserts its belief that local units of government, through the exercise of their zoning power, can best prevent such conflicts from arising in the future, and the legis-lature urges local units of government to use their zoning power accordingly.”

Industrial farms

When laws such as ‘Right to Farm’ were passed, the kind of farms that existed in Wisconsin were small to mid-sized family farms, many of them dairy farms. It was a time in history when America’s farmers weren’t doing well, and the laws were passed in the same groundswell of sentiment for the plight of family farmers that also saw the birth of the annual ‘Farm Aid’ concert.

It is hard to say if anyone envisioned in the 1980s the size of farms and the methods of production that citizens today are increasingly uniting to question. Some who oppose the CAFO system of production contend that these entities are not farms in the classic sense of the word, but rather investor-owned, industrial scale production facilities.

The ‘Right to Harm’ film pointed out that CAFOs are really industrial-scale production facilities that have essentially been exploiting the ‘pro-farming’ laws to be able to spread massive quantities of untreated animal waste onto the landscape. 

An operation like the proposed Roth Feeder Pig facility in Marietta Township would generate approximately the same amount of waste as a city the size of LaCrosse. As is pointed out in the film, if these farm businesses were regulated like the industrial manufacturers they resemble, their handling of their industrial waste would not be allowed.

Passage of the ‘one-size-fits-all’ livestock facility siting law, and development of the corresponding ATCP 51 rule in 2004, served to catalyze the number of such industrial facilities in the State of Wisconsin. Since 2004, the number of CAFOs in Wisconsin has doubled. Meanwhile, Wisconsin leads the nation in bankruptcies of small-to-mid-size family farms.
County LCD funding
STATE FUNDING for county land conservation staff funding has been cut every year since the state’s non-point pollution rule was adopted. In the same time frame, the number of CAFO operations in the state has doubled. County land conservation depart-ments are the front lines in monitoring and enforcing the manure spreading activities of CAFOs.

LCD funding

The 2020 Joint Allocation Plan for Soil and Water Resource Management and the Nonpoint Source Program included cuts by DATCP for funding of county land conservation departments (LCD). These departments are the front lines in management of compliance with the nutrient management plans for CAFO operations.

In the latest biennial budget, DATCP was authorized by the Wisconsin State Legislature to fund only two of the three positions that had traditionally been funded for LCDs. In addition, no funding was made available to LCDs from the DNR as is suggested. 

When a permitted CAFO, with a manure storage lagoon that is typically measured in the millions of gallons, spreads manure on their fields or on rented land, it is the county LCDs that are required to monitor compliance. DNR only gets involved when there is a discharge into surface waters and a fish kill is observed. For any reports that an operator is spreading manure in excess of the amount allowed in their nutrient management plan, DNR would turn such a report over to the LCD for investigation.

In the decade between 2008 and 2018, the percentage of acres in nutrient management plans in the state managed by LCDs that are associated either with large farm operations permitted under ATCP51, or as CAFOs with a WPDES permit granted by DNR, increased by 66 percent. The total number of acres in the state operating under nutrient management plans nearly tripled from 604,000 to 1,754,000 acres. 

The LCDs have not been fully funded by the state since 1997, and by the time ATCP 51 was enacted in 2004, their funding had plummeted 31 percent from $13 million to $9 million. Their funding dipped further between 2010 and 2012, going as low as $7.7 million, and has climbed only slowly back to $9.3 million in 2018.

Effectively, requiring LCDs to enforce plans which determine how nutrients and industrial agricultural waste is applied to the landscape, while simultaneously cutting their funding, constitutes an unfunded mandate and a failure to uphold the rights of all Wisconsin citizens to enjoy the natural resources of the state. What many citizens seem to fear is that this means there is essentially no oversight of these operation’s industrial waste management, and drinking water may be unprotected.