Massive Kewaunee factory farm, DNR reach settlement on manure spreading, water monitoring

MADISON – A massive Kewaunee County factory farm will eliminate its application of liquid manure on fields over the next four years, as part of a legal settlement that allows it to avoid costly installing groundwater monitoring wells.

Kinnard Farms on May 11 agreed to install the manure treatment technology at it’s Casco location. The Department of Natural Resources agreed to the farm’s terms.

The agreement is the latest chapter in long-running tensions between the county’s massive farms, known as CAFOs — or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations — and residents concerned about the impact of the large operations on their drinking water.

The technology Kinnard is planning to install is called a Varcor System, manufactured by Sedron Technologies. It will transform liquid manure into three products, according to a statement from Lee Kinnard, a farm owner: clean water, dry organic fertilizer and organic ammonia fertilizer.

The technology will eliminate the majority of truck traffic in the area and reduce the need for long-term storage of liquid manure in lagoons.

more: Lawmakers approve a settlement with large-scale Kewaunee County factory farm over manure pollution

The original challenge stemmed from a lawsuit against the DNR, over permitting changes that limited the number of animals the farm could have to the current number, and required that the farm install groundwater monitoring wells to ensure that nutrients from manure spread on fields weren’t polluting the drinking water supply for people in the area.

“Removal of the water from the manure hastens our ability to increase our family’s already extensive use of regenerative agricultural practices, allowing us to plant cover crops and eliminate tillage on an even greater number of our fields,” Lee Kinnard said in a statement. “These practices are proven to regenerate soil health, prevent erosion and sequester carbon, and are highly protective of water quality.”

Kinnard agreed to withdraw the legal challenge, according to a press release from Midwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental law group that represented Kewaunee County residents in the challenges to the farm’s suit.

“Our fight for clean drinking water stretches back more than a decade and has involved many ordinary yet dedicated people, including more than a few who are no longer with us. This is a deeply personal issue for many of us,” Kewaunee County resident Jodi Parins said in a press release. “This settlement and the potential of (manure elimination) technology will allow us to get on with our lives and, hopefully, stop being afraid of drinking our water.”

But advocates are still worried that the technology might not achieve all that the farm owners are promising.

“Due to the relatively new nature of the technology, as well as this CAFO’s history of compliance violations, our clients insist that a clear timeline and strong provisions for ensuring transparency and accountability be incorporated into the final settlement,” attorney Adam Voskuil of Midwest Environmental Advocates said.

more: Kewaunee County factory farm sues the DNR over new permit that limits animals, orders water monitoring

Kinnard also agreed to pay $215,000 in another settlement, over a number of allegations of pollution stemming from the farm’s handling of manure spreading, as well as failing to submit updated documents on storage facilities between 2018 and 2020. It also called for Kinnard to submit to the DNR plans for and complete upgrades to two waste storage facilities and a feed storage area.

Kewaunee County is home to 16 CAFOs

Kewaunee County, in northeastern Wisconsin, is home to 16 industrial farms and has been struggling with agricultural pollution for years after testing showed levels of contaminants in residents’ private drinking wells.

The fields on which Kinnard typically spreads manure are highly susceptible to pollution due to the short distance between the topsoil and the water table below, and the prevalence of karst geology — fractures in the bedrock that allow liquid manure to easily access the water table.

Kinnard has been embroiled in a battle with local residents and the DNR over its permits, which were updated earlier this year to include a cap of 11,369 animal units, or about 8,000 cows, which is the number the current farm houses. The updated permit also mandated that Kinnard install monitoring wells in some of the fields it uses for spreading manure, in order to measure the impact the fertilizer is having on the groundwater.

more: Kewaunee County dairy farmer, 2 others charged with over-spreading manure, falsifying documents

While residents saw the requirements as a win, Kinnard sued DNR last year, saying the animal cap would cause the farm to lose revenue and that monitoring wells would cost too much money.

Kewaunee is one of a number of Wisconsin counties facing water quality issues due to the over-application of manure and other fertilizers used by agriculture. A study released last year found that manure and fertilizer levels exceeded recommended limits by 50% in some places, putting nearby residents and water at risk.

Laura Schulte can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter at @SchulteLaura.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin CAFO Kinnard Farms reaches settlement with state

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