Thursday, August 3, 2017

How dairy you say that

The livestock farming industry has gone through a significant transformation in the previous few decades. Production has progressed from smaller, family owned farms to large scale farms that regularly have corporate contracts. A majority of meat and dairy products now are being produced on large farms with single species buildings or open air enclosures. When reviewing our existing data on agricultural operations I noticed that there was minimal information about the current discussions pertaining to concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) or the current policies being implemented in regards to them. However, few have addressed the ways in which the industry has been challenged towards improvement or the cumulative effect of multiple unregulated small livestock operations. If we hope to improve water quality, we must take into consideration all the various factors as well as the limits to our current resources and the ways in which we should go about expanding them.

Why has the number of smaller dairies farm decreased while the number of CAFOs has instead done the opposite? There are recurring themes as to why small dairies are decreasing. This includes factors like owners having limited resources or capital to stay in the business, having low efficiency rates, the stress of working 24/7, having no successor or having no interest from future generations to take over the business. Apart from this there are also themes found throughout as to why farmers are instead choosing to expand into larger dairy operations. This ranges from the ability to make more profit, become much more efficient, and the capability to have more time off and vacation time. This thus influences more small farm owners to transition into other fields or become CAFOs.

Actions and discussions towards changes in policies or efforts for water quality have gained more traction lately.  Recently there was a report developed by members of the Dunn County Livestock Operations Study Group (LOSG). What I found when observing these study group meetings was that the group included invited participants representing a cross-section of interests concerned with the impacts of CAFOs on groundwater, surface water and air quality within the County. They reviewed current ordinances and revisions of existing ordinances or creations of a Livestock Facilities Zoning Ordinance. In addition to this report there are other existing federal, state, and county regulations in place that help control the waste management of these livestock operations. The nutrient management plans help regulate the discharge of pollutants from livestock production facilities and monitor the spreading of them.

While Wisconsin has implemented conservation practices for all farms, counties are mainly held accountable for employing these standards. Under the current state law, a landowner’s compliance obligation is normally contingent upon an offer of cost-sharing. Large livestock operations must meet applicable permit standards, regardless of cost-sharing. Although conservation needs greatly exceed cost-share funding, some funds go unspent for lack of voluntary sign-ups. However, for the most part there are limited actions that can be done towards providing funds for smaller farmers.

In order to improve action towards an increase in cost-share budgets, community members should take further action to support government agencies like the Land and Water Conservation Department, which in turn will influence the efforts put towards improving efforts for water quality that pertain to agricultural practices. Working towards developing relationships amongst farmers and governmental agencies to create a bridge towards improving water quality is necessary. It’s also essential to reach out to younger individuals who are interested in agriculture or those taking over an existing operation and educating them about the benefits of using agricultural practices for environmental sustainability.

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