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Taking Care of Cows' Business

Town of Rosendale - From the road, the barn looks more like a distribution center than a home for cows.

When expansion plans are complete, Rosendale Dairy will milk 8,000 dairy cows. That's enough to fill 11 tanker trucks of milk a day and produce more waste than the City of Green Bay.

Supporters see the $70 million farm as the biggest and latest example of farmers who have rejected red barns and small herds for California-scale dairying, where size matters.

Rosendale's barn holds nearly 700 cows and for now sits mostly empty, stretching the length of four football fields. The $1 million milking parlor is a slow-moving carousel that milks 80 cows at a time.

But with so much milk comes manure - an estimated 92 million gallons of liquid waste annually.

Opponents, including officials in nearby Ripon, worry about the effects of so much manure on the area's groundwater, which is particularly susceptible to contaminants.

How Rosendale will handle the waste is the crux of a controversy as the Department of Natural Resources reviews a wastewater discharge permit for the farm.

DNR officials say Rosendale's plan to spread manure has been the most rigorously reviewed proposal in the state.

Todd Ambs, the agency's water division administrator, said Rosendale is a classic case of the DNR being pulled in different directions.

"In the end we are trying to achieve two important things," he said. "Agriculture is by far our most important industry, and good water quality undergirds much of our quality of life and our economic health."

A decision from the DNR is expected early this month.

If it's approved, Rosendale will be on its way to building the largest dairy farm in Wisconsin. State officials said last week that there are several farms with about 6,000 cows.

The project has pitted pro-dairy forces against those who worry about the potential pollution from so much manure.

The DNR has received nearly 3,000 comments, most of them since December.

In a scene reminiscent of presidential election races, farm supporters wore blue hats and shirts, and opponents were dressed in red as more than 600 people gathered at a DNR public hearing in January in Ripon.

One of the opponents was Mark Resch. He sees large farms such as Rosendale - known as confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs - as upending traditional rural life.

In Wisconsin, a farm is considered a CAFO if it has 700 or more milk cows.

"In the past, you heard about urbanites moving to the country," he said in a recent interview. "Now it's the reverse: The CAFOs have invaded the rural environment."

In 1992, there were 19 CAFOs in Wisconsin. The number has grown nearly tenfold to 185, according to the DNR.

The agency is currently reviewing 50 new applications.

Full story: http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/40490387.html