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Dairy community raises its voice over runaway rules

Monday, October 31, 2016   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jamie Mara
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Jamie Mara
director of public relations

“Stand up and be counted.”

That’s what dairy farmer Doug Ullom offered when I asked him for advice he’d give to farmers whose local governments are threatening their livelihoods.

Doug runs Squires Farms, a large dairy in Menomonie, with his wife, Cheryl, and four sons, and Cheryl's parents, Earl and Lois Squires, who have farmed there since 1960. Doug joined the farm in 1975. He hopes his sons and eventually some of his 13 grandchildren will carry on. 

Doug and many others in Dunn County were rattled last month when a proposed moratorium on new and expanding large dairies sprouted up on a county committee agenda and was fast-tracked for approval through the full county board.

It proved to be one of at least three restrictive farm ordinances considered just days apart in the state. The two others were another large-farm moratorium in St. Croix County and a prohibition on spreading of liquid manure in a large portion of the town of Oakfield in Fond du Lac County.

The St. Croix proposal awaits a likely vote in December. In Oakfield, the manure ordinance was shelved indefinitely.

In all three cases, I’m proud to say, farmers and others in the dairy community rallied.

They came together to contact local officials, to attend the meetings and deliver comments, and to circulate facts about large-scale farming. They supported each other.

I am also proud to say that the Dairy Business Milk Marketing Cooperative helped them by encouraging action, supplying accurate information about farming and its impact, tracking schedules and keeping members informed.

Our goal was not to endorse any one project over another or cast aside smaller farms in favor of larger ones. We are an inclusive organization, with member farms ranging in size from a few cows to thousands. Instead our goal was to convey the message that local governments cannot be allowed to overstep their authority, or sensibility, by creating uninformed, shortsighted rules.

We see a slippery slope. Doug Ullom does, too.

“They could eventually go after every farmer in the county — everyone,” he said.

The legalities of the recent actions are yet to be sorted out. Lawsuits are a distinct possibility.

Regardless, these mostly knee-jerk reactions jeopardize local economies. Don’t just think farmers; think bankers, builders, agronomists, veterinarians, feed and seed companies, cheesemakers, haulers, implement dealers and the host of other businesses and services built upon dairy farming.

While not as black and white as dollars and cents, reputations are at risk as well. Unfortunately, the actions by Dunn, St. Croix and Oakfield officials serve to divide those communities. They result in the spread of misinformation about how farmers do their jobs and accusations about farmers’ motives. The moratoriums cast a pall of suspicion over all farmers. That’s unfair.

“You’re put out to be a villain,” Doug said.

This isn’t about farmers decrying each and every regulation. They realize the role they must play in being good stewards of the environment. They want safe water, healthy soils, and clear rivers and lakes, too.

It is about governments making informed, measured and scientifically sound decisions through an open and thoughtful process.

Having a say means stepping up — the way the farm community did last month.

Doug Ullom doesn’t see much of a choice.

“If you don’t stand up, they’ll run you over.”

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