“Farmland” Fables – What the Documentary Gets Wrong

By:  Jim Goodman, FFD board member

Originally posted on Civil Eats, 4/30/14


The promotional website for the new film Farmland invites viewers to “step inside the world of farming for a first-hand glimpse into the lives of young farmers and ranchers.” The film, which opens in some theaters May 1, features six young farmers from across the U.S.

But let’s make this very clear: Farmland is funded by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance (USFRA), a trade association uniting industry representatives from groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and the United Soybean Board, state farm bureaus, and the agribusiness corporations Monsanto, DuPont Pioneer, and John Deere. This fact​ alone​​ suggests that it’s not the straightforward look at today’s farmers that it portrays itself to be.

The Farmers

The film combines interviews with scenes from their day-to-day lives, and it does a very credible job of capturing the trials and aspirations of ​a corn and soy farmer, a hog farmer, a chicken farmer, a cattle rancher, and two vegetable farmers—one large organic producer and one small CSA (community-supported agriculture) farmer. They are all passionate advocates of their farming operation and methods and all six spoke of​ the problems of growing crops, particularly the really tight margins affecting farmers.

I suppose one could say they covered a fair cross section of farming operations across the U.S., but they did, however, miss bringing ​​dairy farming, urban farming, and minority farmers into the picture entirely. From my point of view as a farmer, Farmland also left out a lot of the problems we face and glorified the trend toward larger, more industrialized farms.

When I heard the stirring, almost patriotic music I knew a giant corn planter would soon be rolling across the Nebraska landscape for a moonlit planting run. From there the viewer goes to Georgia, where a group of school children are looking into a barn housing 25,000 chickens, one of 18 such barns on the farm, to which 450,000 chicks are delivered at a time, five times every year.

The Nebraska corn and soy farmer tells the audience that he has irrigated twice as much in 2012 as he does in a normal year, but we never hear him question the sustainability of irrigating what should be dry land farm country.

The hog farmer from Minnesota shows the construction for an expansion of their facilities, but he never questions why the global market he is part of is not providing a fair return for his work, one that would not necessitate constant expansion.

And the rancher from Texas asks, “Is there really any difference between organic and natural?” as a swirling collage of labels filled the screen, enforcing the idea that labels are more confusing than they are helpful.

The commercial organic grower in California seems to rely heavily on his Latino employees and I hope they were fairly paid. While he clearly feels organic is a better way to farm, his choices appear to be lead more by economic factors than ethical ones. His farming plan is to try to stay one step ahead of the market at all times.

Finally, the young CSA farmer from the appropriately named One Woman Farm, in Pennsylvania, shows real joy in growing food, not commodities. She is the only one who directly connects with people who eat what she grows. New to farming, she is the token woman and a token small-scale operator. And, as the film suggests, she may provide food for several households, but she alone (or others like her) will never “feed the world.”

No, for that important work—Farmland tells us—one needs a much larger operation, and new technology: GPS, auto-steer tractors, genetically engineered seeds (commonly referred to as GMOs), confinement-based animal production (or CAFOs). This is a common refrain from USFRA, which was founded in 2011.

“Feeding the World”

The group has hosted events called Food Dialogues and produced media to respond to other food films, such Food, Inc., King Corn, and criticism aimed at revealing what many consumers see as the downsides to heavily consolidated agriculture. (The USFRA receives federal commodity marketing program dollars, or check-offs, paid for by growers of various commodities who contribute through product sales whether they want to or not.)

Indeed, the phrase “feeding the world” has become an opiate that lulls farmers and consumers into accepting the system of commodity production, high-tech farming and the notion that “food is food,” no matter how it’s grown or harvested.

GMOs are a good example. In Farmland, they are described as offering farmers all sorts of benefits that haven’t lived up to their hype: Weed control options, insect resistance, higher yields, drought resistance, and better nutrition. On the other hand, the film’s two organic farmers were never shown criticizing the farmers who use GMO seeds, and, in my opinion, that is how it should be. Industry is the one and only winner when it comes to GMOs.

Like them, my criticism is not of these young farmers. It’s not an easy job and most of us take on huge financial risks while the multinational corporations controlling agriculture will make a profit, no matter what happens to our bottom line. Thanks to climate change, free trade agreements, and consolidation, all our futures are uncertain.

But the system, and the corporate control was never questioned—that is what I found missing from Farmland: Someone seriously asking questions about this “get big or get out” food system. I would have liked to see someone ask why hunger continues to grow as farmers adopt all the technology that industry, government, universities, and media tell them they should.

And finally: Why must small and medium-sized farmers struggle financially while the agribusiness industries see their profit margins climb?

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Family Farmers and Allies to Protest Dairy Price Fixing and Global Carbon Trading Outside the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) – 141 W. Jackson – at 12:00 Noon on April 18th


Contact: John E. Peck, Executive Director, Family Farm Defenders, (608) 260-0900

Chicago, Illinois  – To mark Via Campesina’s International Day of Peasant Struggle, family farmers and their allies will converge at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) – 141 W. Jackson – at noon on Friday April 18, 2014 to expose the rampant price fixing by commodity speculators that drives the ongoing global food and climate crisis.

Friday, April 18, 2014

12:00pm – Protest and Leaflet, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, 141 W. Jackson Blvd.

5:30pm – Potluck and Discussion, Institute of Cultural Affairs, 4750 N. Sheridan Rd.

Family Farm Defenders’ annual protest at the CME demands greater social responsibility and transparency from one of Chicago’s most lucrative and secretive corporations, which posts billions of dollars in profits while rural workers and family farmers live in poverty.

Dairy farmers in particular will call upon the Department of Justice (DoJ) to take action against the food giants – including Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) Land O’Lakes, and Dean Foods, which control close to half of all milk production in the country – that defy anti-trust laws and remain silent on price fixing at the expense of working farmer families.

Joel Greeno, family farmer from Kendall, WI and president of Family Farm Defenders, noted, “The CEO of Land O’Lakes may think that farmers only exist to serve the market. But farmers work hard to pay their bills and support their families first, and only serve the market second. As the rest of the world celebrates the U.N. Year of Family Farming, farmers across the U.S. are going bankrupt and being forced off the land by unfair prices.”

John E. Peck, executive director of Family Farm Defenders, said, “Small farmers have the capacity to feed the world and cool the planet, but speculation with commodity crops and carbon credits undermines that possibility.    We hope that traders at the CME and officials at the DoJ will hear our voice and come to realize that there are more responsible ways to run a marketplace than what now occurs in Chicago.”

Marches and rallies are held around the world on Via Campesina’s International Day of Peasant Struggle every year to draw attention to economic, political, and cultural exploitation suffered by rural people and communities. It commemorates the massacre of 19 unarmed farm workers who were demanding agrarian reform in Brazil in 1996.

The same evening at 5:30 pm there will be a potluck and community forum on food sovereignty and climate justice at the Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) – 4750 N. Sheridan in Chicago.  Featured panelists will include:  Joel Greeno, WI farmer and president of Family Farm Defenders, Jed Schenkier of Loud Grade Produce and 2014 winner of the John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize, Seva Gandhi of the ICA’s Accelerate 77 which creates collaborative spaces for organizations of work on sustainability, Debar Michaud, organizer wit Tarsands Free Midwest, as well as invited speakers from Food and Water Watch (FWW), Chicago Fair Food,  and the Landless Workers Movement (MST) of Brazil.

Further information about the questionable activities of the CME and how these contribute to global climate change and the ongoing food crisis can be found below.

There is also a link to a dairy specific factsheet here:  Dairy Farm Facts Pamphlet

People are also encouraged to invite others to these April 18th events in Chicago via Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/events/498757003561509/


Despite massive public hearings across the U.S. and dozens of pending legal complaints, the U.S. Dept. of Justice (DoJ) and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) have yet to take serious anti-trust action against the corporations and their traders that routinely manipulate CME markets for their private profit.  These bad actors include some of the world’s largest food giants and even corrupt farmer co-ops.  In 2008 the CFTC found Dairy Farmers of America (DFA) guilty of price rigging at the CME and levied an unprecedented $12 million fine.  In 2103 DFA paid a $158 million to settle another lawsuit that it conspired with Dean Foods to fix milk prices to the detriment of dairy farmers across 14 states.  Implicated in similar dairy price shenanigans are Kraft Foods, Schreiber Foods, and Land O Lakes.
From its humble beginning in 1898 as the non-profit Chicago Butter and Egg Board, the CME has since grown into the world’s largest private trading clearinghouse. Each day an elite group of commodity traders gathers at the CME to swap such products as natural gas, soybeans, cheddar cheese, fertilizer, and feather meal (ground up dead chickens and chicken manure used to feed livestock).  Within seconds this “thin” market reverberates around the globe, affecting farmgate prices and grocery bills for billions of people.  In 2002 the CME began issuing its own stock, and in 2007 acquired the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) for $8 billion as one of its designated contract markets (DCMs).  In 2008 the CME Group bought out another rival, the New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) for $8.9 billion, and in 2009 also acquired the Dow Jones Indexes.
In 2010 the CME reported revenues in excess of $3 billion, handling over 12 million contracts per day.  While some human shouting still occurs in the pit, over 70% of CME trading now happens quietly behind the scenes through its Globex electronic platform.  The majority of CME trading is now also done by speculators, who have no tangible interest in the commodities being traded.  CME remains the most profitable business in Chicago, yet it receives millions in tax breaks each year from the State of Illinois in order to keep it from moving elsewhere.  CME executives are also routinely ranked among the wealthiest people in the U.S.  Outgoing CEO Craig Donohue received over $6 million in 2012, though he only worked for the CME for four months that year.  His successor, Phupinder Gill, received compensation of $3.3 million for the rest of 2012.
For years the CME was also home to the Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX), North America’s largest pollution market.  At its height, the CCX had over 450 traders including the Farm Bureau, Dupont, Ford, and the University of California.  But in 2010 the market eventually succumbed to an over supply of “hot air” credits that drove down the price of carbon from a high of $7.50 per metric ton to less than 5 cents.  The CME has since moved on to acquire GreenX as its latest global pollution market – with an estimated 450,000 contracts traded in 2011, equivalent to 450 million tons of CO2.  These carbon traders include some of the top names in tar sands, land grabbing, and fossil fuels:  ABN AMRO, British Petroleum, Goldman Sachs, and Wells Fargo to name a few.


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Family Farm Defenders Announces Winners of the Third Annual John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize! – Invites Public to Attend Land + Water + Seeds = Food Conference Featuring Raj Patel Held in Conjunction with the Award Ceremony – March 14-15 at UW-Baraboo

For Immediate Release:Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved

March 3rd, 2014

Contact: John E. Peck, executive director, Family Farm Defenders #608-260-0900

Family Farm Defenders is proud to announce the winners of this year’s John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize – Blain Snipstal with Five Seeds Farm near Sparks, MD and Jed Schenkier with Loud Grade Produce Squad in Chicago, IL.  When not working on his farm outside Baltimore, Blain is also deeply involved in the International Youth Articulation of La Via Campesina, the South Eastern African American Organic Network (SAAFON) and the Seed Keepers Collective.  The rooftop farm atop the Weiss Hospital in Chicago’s Uptown which Jed helped create received the Illinois Governor’s Hometown Award in 2011, and Loud Grade Produce Squad now offers CSA shares, farming focused after school programs, and is even planning a fruit orchard.in the middle of the city.

Leaders of farm, food and environmental groups will also headline a daylong program prior to the award dinner that features panel discussions and workshops on issues critical to the future of food and farming: land grabbing, water resources at risk, local control, fighting factory farms,trade agreements, GMOs, media outreach, and local food. The event will kick off on Friday evening March 14 with a reception and local author David Rhodes discussing his writings, including the books Driftless and his most recent novel, Jewelweed. Some short films featuring local farmers will follow.

John Peck, Executive Director of the Family Farm Defenders said, “Our conference and the Food Sovereignty Prize has special meaning this year since John Kinsman, founder and president of FFD, recently passed away. We will share some of his amazing legacy at the 3rd Annual John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Dinner to be held on Saturday March 15 with Raj Patel, author of Stuffed and Starved and The Value of Nothing, as the keynote speaker.Rhodes300dpi2


Kimberlee Wright, executive director of Midwest Environmental Advocates said, “A generous champion like John reminds us of the importance of each of our roles, no matter how large or small, in acting to provide future generations with the very best chance to meet the challenges of their time. We’re links in a chain, and each of us is capable of not letting go, regardless of our wealth or formal knowledge.”

Jim Goodman, Vice President of FFD and a Board Member of Midwest Environmental Advocates, stated, “John’s legacy is action, pushing the envelope, making waves, and raising hell, each of us using our own talent to change things. I think he would have said it was all about the movement, not the movers.” One goal of the conference will be to move ahead and take action on issues critical to protecting our lands and waters, saving our seeds to produce safe nutritious food grown by small family farmers.

The conference begins with registration and breakfast at 8 a.m. and ends at 5:30 p.m. The Reception and Dinner begin immediately afterward.  To register and for a full schedule of events please click here: FFD Conference 2014

Tentative Schedule is as follows (all events at UW-Baraboo – 1006 Connie Rd. in Baraboo, WI):

Fri. March 14th

6:30 – 9:00 p.m.  David Rhodes, Author of Driftless and Jewelweed: The Novel 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.   Followed by several shorts films on food and farm issues.

Sat. March 15th

8:00 a.m.  Registration and Breakfast – Lange Center

9:00 a.m.  Welcome  — John Peck and Joel Greeno – Umfoefer Building—Room A-4

9:15 a.m.  Panel – This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land…and Land Grabbing

Moderator:  Ruth Simpson Panelists: Curt Meine, Ben Burkett, Ken Schmitt

10:30 a.m. Break

10:45 a.m. Workshops 1

A.  Local control and State Preemption – Who’s in Charge?– Room A-4 – Strategy Session – Edie Ehlert,

B.  Fair Trade and Trade Agreements – Room A-30

Jim Goodman, Mary Bottari, John Peck

C.  Seeds of Change:  The case against GMOs and for Labeling – Room A-18 – Patty Lovera, Mark Kastel

Noon  Lunch – Lange Center

1:00 p.m. Panel – Is the well dry? Water Resources at Risk

Moderator:  Arleen Kanno Panelists: Bob Clarke, Kimberlee Wright, Rep. Dana Wachs

2:15 p.m. Break

2:30 p.m. Workshops 2

D.  Fighting CAFOs  — Strategies for Winning

Strategy Session – Room A-4 – Nancy and Lynn Utesch, Bill Iwen,

E.  Land O’Lakes Campaign – Fair Prices for Dairy Farmers – Room A-30 – Strategy Session – Bob Wills, Joel Greeno

F.  The Good Local Food Movement – Room A-18

Rebecca Goodman, Inga Witscher, Jasia Steinmitz, Oscar Ferreira

3:45 p.m. Break

4:00 p.m. Panel – Food Justice:  Carrying the Message to Media and the Masses

Moderator:  Rebekah Wilce:  Panelists:  Raj Patel, Patty Lovera, Ron Seely

5:30 – 9:30 p.m  John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Reception & Dinner and Ceremony – with keynote presentation by Raj Patel, Author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved

Early bird registration ends March 1st.  Those preferring to pay with a credit card can do so through our Razoo donation button on the website – just indicate you paid online when you mail in your registration.  There is a reduced rate for students; scholarships are also available for those with limited income.JohnKisnmanCMEProtstChicago

If you have any questions, please contact:

Family Farm Defenders, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI  53701  tel./fax 608-260-0900   familyfarmdefenders@yahoo.org

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John Kinsman, Founder and Longtime President of Family Farm Defenders, Has Passed Away


Here is the sad news that some were expecting.

John Kinsman, age 87, passed away in the afternoon on Mon. Jan. 20th at his family’s farm, less than a mile from his birth place. He was laid to rest in the Lime Ridge cemetary on Sat. Jan. 25th after a funeral service at Holy Family Catholic Church in La Valle that was attended by hundreds of well wishers from across the country.

John has literally touched the lives of thousands of people as a grassroots pioneer of organic sustainable agriculture and globe trotting advocate of food sovereignty for decades. He also became a civil rights activist in the 1960s and this profound passion for peace and justice pervaded all of his activist endeavors.

We would like to continue to celebrate his legacy at the 3rd Annual John Kinsman Beginning Farmer Food Sovereignty Prize Award Dinner to be held on Sat March 15th at UW-Baraboo with Raj Patel as the keynote speaker.  Sponsorships of this prize are still being accepted, and more details on the schedule of activities in mid March will be posted soon on this website.  Those who have memories of John that they would like to share are welcome to send them to FFD to be part of this tribute.

For those who may be curious to learn more about the inspirational life of John Kinsman, below are some links to recent profiles and interviews.

His voice and spirit will be sorely missed!

– John E. Peck, executive director

Memories of John Kinsman are being collected by Andrew Kang Bartlett of the Presbyterian Church on his Food & Faith blog:  http://www.pcusa.org/blogs/foodfaith/2014/1/21/kinsman/

Carolyn Mugar’s Farm Aid tribute to John Kinsman:  http://blog.farmaid.org/2014/02/remembering-john-kinsman.html

John Nichols’ reflection on the legacy of John Kinsman for the Nation on 1/26/2014: http://www.thenation.com/blog/178088/farmer-who-took-corporate-globalization

2014 Tribute to John Kinsman from the Cornucopia Institute: http://www.cornucopia.org/2014/01/remembering-john-kinsman-president-family-farm-defenders/

2014 Tribute by Carol Schachet of Grassroots International:  http://grassrootsonline.org/news/blog/remembering-family-farm-defender-and-champion-john-kinsman-presente

YouTube documentary of the 2013 Farm Labor Reality Tour by Amy Mall & Sherwin Ovid that includes footage and commentary of John Kinsman in FL during the CIW March: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aJn5zkJn45k&feature=youtu.be

2012 Interview with John Kinsman conducted by Daniel Tucker at the Jane Addams Hull House Museum in Chicago:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j_0vviyVlPo

2012 Profile of John Kinsman by Marc Eisen for the Progressive Magazine: http://www.progressive.org/family_farm_defender.html

2012 Booklet titled John Kinsman: Activist Farmer compiled by Daniel Tucker: https://danieltucker.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/kinsman-booklet-final-singlepage-web.pdf

2102 Interview with John Kinsman by In Motion Magazine: http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/ra11/j_kinsman_int11.html

2011 Interview with John Kinsman conducted by Bekah Wilce of PR Watch : http://www.prwatch.org/news/2011/10/11044/food-rights-network-interviews-food-farm-hero-john-kinsman.

Another 2011 Interview conducted by Daniel Tucker with John Kinsman at his farm near Lime Ridge, WI: http://www.foodfirst.org/en/Family+Farm+Defenders

2010 Farmer Hero profile from Farm Aid: http://www.farmaid.org/site/apps/nlnet/content2.aspx?c=qlI5IhNVJsE&b=2723875&ct=8488469




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Tipping the ‘sacred cow’: Report calls out big-money agribusiness interests, pushes for CAFO moratorium

cafo.phpBy: Danielle Endvick, Country Today, 12/9/2013

A report recently released by the Wisconsin Environment Research and Policy Center, a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy group, links more large dairy operations in Wisconsin and the weakening of the state’s clean water standards with big-money agribusiness interests.

Katie Siegner, Wisconsin Environment clean water associate, said the report, “The Power to Pollute,” aims to unearth agribusiness’ political influence in Madison and the impact it has on Wisconsin waterways.

“People don’t realize how much money — millions and millions of dollars — these big agribusiness groups like the Dairy Business Association and the Farm Bureau are spending to lobby the state government in Wisconsin and to make sure the state Legislature and state agencies like the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection are passing policies that are friendly to big agribusiness and these factory farms,” Siegner said.

According to the report, agribusinesses and related organizations spent more than $4.4 million lobbying the Wisconsin government in the past five years. Lobbying expenditures included almost $200,000 spent by Kraft Foods, more than $800,000 by the Dairy Business Association and more than $1 million by Koch Companies Public Sector (a subsidiary of Koch Industries, a multibillion dollar corporation that sells products and services to large agricultural operations through its other subsidiaries).

The report also notes that since the DNR took charge of overseeing new and expanding dairy farms, the agency has never turned down a permit request nor revoked a permit following pollution standards violations. The DNR issued three violation notices for concentrated animal feeding operations’ animal waste in 2012 — down from 13 in 2011 and 15 in 2010.

Meanwhile, the number of permitted CAFOs has grown from just one in Wisconsin in 1992 to 92 in 2002 and 237 in 2012. CAFOs are defined by

the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as “agricultural operations where animals are kept and raised in confined

situations. CAFOs con-gregate animals, feed, manure and urine, dead animals, and production operations on a small land area.

Feed is brought to the animals rather than the animals grazing or otherwise seeking feed in pastures, fields, or on rangeland.”

“We’ve found that in the counties with the highest concentration of CAFOs — Kewaunee and Brown counties — a lot of that water pollution can be traced directly to the CAFOs,” Siegner said.

The report recommends a moratorium on CAFO permits until further research on their impact can be conducted. In addition, it suggests DATCP more strictly limit water pollution by better regulating high-capacity well systems; banning aerial manure application and over-application of fertilizers; tightening rules for inspection; punishing repeat or serious offenders; and creating a citizen monitoring system through which citizens can report potential violations.

Laurie Fischer, executive director of the DBA, which was among agribusiness groups targeted in the report, said any potential moratorium on CAFO permits would threaten the dairy industry in Wisconsin.

“A moratorium on CAFOs would result in dairy processing infrastructure dollars leaving the state … since we are already a milk-deficit state, meaning we import milk to meet the demands of our dairy processing industry,” Fischer wrote in an email to The Country Today. “That affects the jobs of cheesemakers, milk haulers, electricians, equipment suppliers and everyone associated with the industry. So a dangerous and irresponsible idea like a ‘CAFO moratorium’ would have far-reaching consequences.”

Political sway

Jim Goodman, who milks 45 cows on his certified organic dairy, Northwood Farm, near Wonewoc and also serves as a board member for Family Farm Defenders, said he would support a CAFO moratorium. Goodman was among panelists who discussed the report in a Dec. 4 teleconference.

“I think before they allow any more CAFOs, they need to see what really is happening with groundwater contamination,” he said.

Goodman said he views CAFOs as both a cause and result of the consolidation that can be seen in agriculture today.

“Everything is getting bigger — the amount of land, machinery,” he said. “As the profit margin drops, the only way to stay in business is economies of scale. There are advantages to size. Throw on top of that the DNR isn’t enforcing regulations on big farms.”

He noted agribusinesses driving the industry want to continue the “bigger is better” trend.

“I don’t think anyone can argue about the sway of political dollars,” he said. “There’s money to be made selling things to farmers. The larger they can push farms to be, the more mechanized, the more money there is to be made.”

Goodman said the justification for industrial agriculture is a misguided notion that it’s done to feed the people of the world, when in reality, much of it feeds animals — which also feed people — and ethanol plants.

“CAFOs have spread because this model is profitable — not necessarily for the farmer or the community but for the grain companies and processors that have basically told farmers how we must farm,” he said.

Lynn Utesch, grass-fed beef farmer and executive board member for Kewaunee CARES, a group advocating for responsible environmental stewardship, said living in Kewaunee County, which has one of the highest concentrations of dairy CAFOs in the state, has given him a firsthand look at the clout agribusiness has and its ability to degrade the environment and communities.

“When the largest CAFOs have direct access to our policymakers, including the secretary of the DNR, who the citizens and small farmers do not have access to, their desires are addressed much faster,” Utesch said.

Though CAFOs are highly regulated, those regulations are minimally enforced, Utesch said.

In Kewaunee County, more than 75 percent of the farmland is enrolled in nutrient-management plans.

“These plans are supposed to be the gold standard to keep groundwater pollution from happening,” Utesch said. “Why then are our groundwaters deteriorating? Why are there no fish in our rivers and streams?”

Long-standing history

The DBA’s Fischer said her organization is not seeking to change Wisconsin’s long-established history of groundwater and environmental protection.

“Every Wisconsin farmer is concerned about our water resources and relies on access to groundwater for their cattle to survive,” Fischer said. “Dairy farms’ wells keep our critical dairy industry producing milk for fluid and cheese production across Wisconsin and the United States.”

Fischer said dairy farmers have received less than 10 percent of all high-capacity well approvals issued by the DNR since 2007.

“The DNR will continue to retain the authority to deny or impose conditions on wells that may impact other resources, and citizens retain all of their rights to pursue claims against well owners that may have affected their property values,” she said.

Fischer said DBA supports Senate Bill 302, which would clarify for farmers the regulatory process when seeking approval for high-capacity wells by providing a clear understanding of requirements of farmers when they apply for permits.

A long reach

Scott Dye, associate with the Socially Responsible Agricultural Project, gained an up-close education on CAFOs when an 80,000-head hog finishing operation was built next to his family farm in Missouri in 1994.

The problem with CAFOs is that they are self-policing, he said.

“These CAFOs are supposed to be inspected once in a five-year period,” he said, “but it’s mostly complaint-driven.”

Dye said he has traveled around the U.S. sharing the story of what happened in his family, community and state with the fervent hope that it doesn’t happen to anyone else.

“The way I see it, this is really a battle for the heart and soul of rural America and what it’s going to look like,” Dye said.

What makes Wisconsin’s situation worrisome is the shallow bedrock of the Central Sands region and fractured bedrock in the northeast portion of the state, where many CAFOs can be found.

“When you’re aerially applying waste on that type of fragile topography, you’re creating serious concerns about drinking water,” Dye said, adding more research needs to be done to fully understand how much phosphorus and nitrogen the land can absorb.

“Because of agribusiness’ influence, the state’s regulatory agencies do little to monitor factory farms, while runoff continues to pour into the state’s waterways, wetlands and drinking water wells,” Dye said. “Without common-sense enforcement, the current unbridled pace of expansion of the state’s mega-dairies is a recipe for environmental disaster.”

At a recent rural health forum in Sturgeon Bay, Gordon Stevenson, former chief runoff management for the DNR, said there are about 100 CAFO pollution elimination discharge permit applications in progress at the DNR, and staff had been urged to process them quickly.

The sacred cow

Dye said he has seen Wisconsin residents struggle with the issue of CAFOs, in part because of the state’s rich dairy history.

“Wisconsin is a state where agriculture is the sacred cow, literally … ” he said. “I think there’s always been a deference to the dairy industry as being a noble profession, something the state has always been proud of. But I’ve been to a lot of these big dairies — it’s nowhere near the experience of living next to a traditional farming operation. These are not your grandfather’s farm.”

Rather than a natural evolution of the industry, the emergence of mega-dairies is a political move by a select few, Dye said.

Goodman said he believes citizens, everyday consumers, will be the ones to put pressure on regulatory agencies.

An improved milk pricing system in the next farm bill would take pressure off farmers to expand too, he said.

“It’s a lot easier for a farmer to make good environmental decisions, good business decisions, good family decisions, if he’s getting paid a fair price,” he said. “Everyone now is fighting to stay in business … . Farmers aren’t bad people. Most want to protect the environment. If they were paid at a point where they didn’t have to milk so many cattle or raise so many pigs, they’d have a good chance to do it.”

Fischer agreed that money is a leading factor contributing to the increasing number of farmers turning to CAFOs.

“Prices have failed to keep up with inflation, producers have had to make difficult decisions … . They could choose to live on less money year after year, find a niche market that pays higher market prices, add more cows or leave the dairy business,” Fischer said. “Farmers have made all of these choices depending on their individual circumstances.”

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