A proposed new large swine farm south of Sheldon has the support of local farmers interested in fertilizing crop fields with its manure and the attention of area residents concerned about surface and groundwater contamination, especially with the Jump River nearby.
Four Mile LLP of Fairmont, Minn., operated by Paul Ruen, has proposed a 900 animal unit swine farm at W6004 County Line Rd., in the town of Marshall, about two miles southwest of Sheldon.
The current plan is scaled back from Ruen’s larger preliminary application submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources more than a year ago for a larger Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation at the property. A Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit is required when a CAFO contains 1,000 animal units or more. WPDES permits are water quality protection permits designed to ensure proper storage and handling of manure from large-scale livestock operations. The WPDES permit program does not have the authority to address odor, noise, traffic or other issues not related to water quality.
They redesigned their plan so their animal units were less than that CAFO limit, according to Rusk County Land Conservation & Development Department Director Nick Stadnyk.
“They backed off that plan and went back to the drawing board,” Stadnyk said. “They are now basically a very large farm.”
CAFOs are intensive livestock operations in a long-term trend toward larger and more cost-efficient farms. Housing a large number of animals in one location allows farms to spend less per animal on costs like feed. In Wisconsin, CAFOs are defined as livestock and poultry feeding operations with at least 1,000 animal units, roughly equal to 1,000 beef cattle, 700 milking cows or 125,000 broiler chickens.
“The number of swine will be more than 1,000 animals, but the conversion to animal units is less than 1,000,” Stadnyk said of the Four Mile LLP proposal.
Stadnyk believes this will be the largest food producing swine farm in the county, noting an existing swine farm near Glen Flora raises genetically engineered breeding animals and is not a CAFO farm.
“This will be one of the few swine operations in the county,” Stadnyk said. “They are raising swine to a certain age, and then they are shipped off to other facilities to be finished off and butchered.”
The proposed facility will produce an estimated 1.65 million gallons of liquid manure and waste water per year. The available storage proposed is 3.22 million gallons which results in about 700 days worth of storage.
The Rusk County Land & Water Conservation Committee tabled a motion granting Ruen an animal waste storage permit at its meeting last week, Tuesday, to allow time to draft site operation conditions. Preliminary conditions under consideration include mandatory animal unit reporting and runoff monitoring.
“It is not approved yet,” Stadnyk said. “We tabled the motion for approval so that we can develop conditions that go with the animal waste storage permit. We are developing those conditions now.”
Farmers at this month’s committee meeting supported the proposal.
Stadnyk said he has received some individual concerns, but none during the committee’s July 13 meeting.
“Beforehand I did have comments from folks expressing their concerns, and we are taking those into consideration as we review the permit application and the conditions,” Stadnyk said.
The main concern is protecting the Jump River about one-quarter mile away, according to Stadnyk.
“The main concern is nutrient management being as close to the Jump River as it is, which is a valid concern and it is one we are concerned with as well,” Stadnyk said.
Marshall Town Chairman Scott Jones said he has heard concerns about the impact the development might have on the environment. He said the development is still in the early stages, and when the project gets further along there will be a meeting with town residents.
“There is a bunch of unhappy people in the Lake Holcombe area, mainly about polluting the water,” Jone said. “I don’t have concerns right now because we don’t know if this is going to go or not going to go.”
County Supervisor Bob Stout, who is chairman of the Rusk County Land & Water Conservation Committee, believes the project will be developed. He noted about 10 farmers attended the committee meeting in support of the proposal.
“It sounds like it probably will go. It sounds like they have all their ducks in a row,” Stout said.
Four Mile LLP is required to develop a nutrient management plan for properly managing manure waste. Officials are proposing operating on about 5-10 acres of land, which is part of 78 total acres across two parcels it owns. A nutrient management plan calls for spreading animal waste on about 1,300 acres of land. Not all of that land will necessarily be used in a given year based upon the recommendations contained in the nutrient management plan.
Development of and adherence to the nutrient management plan is a requirement under the Rusk County Animal Waste Storage Ordinance along with an approved engineering design, both of which are reviewed and approved before a permit is issued.
“They will be working with the land owners to properly spread the waste,” Stadnyk said. “They are getting free fertilizer that meets their crop needs from this facility, and the facility in turn is properly able to dispose of its waste in an environmentally sound way.”
Design and operation standards for the proposal would be the same whether it was a CAFO with more than 1,000 animal units or not, according to Stadnyk. The only difference is a CAFO requires a state DNR pollution discharge permit.
“We can be relatively assured that it is going to meet the conservation standards and protect natural resources because that is what those standards and specifications are designed to do,” Stadnyk said. “If these sites are designed properly and operated properly, there is a reduced concern. I know they are large operations, but if done properly and following the standards they are not a concern.”
In 2018, Four Mile LLP canceled plans to build a 6,500-head, $18 million hog farm near Cornell. Four Mile had filed an application with Chippewa County earlier that year to build on 200th Street in the town of Cleveland. The CAFO would have produced weaner pigs for family farms, which would then raise the pigs for the meat market.
Ruen attended the University of Minnesota, where he met his wife, who is from Cornell. Ruen said he travels with her to Cornell frequently, and that is one of the reasons he and investors began looking in Chippewa County. One reason for picking an area far from other hog farms is for biosecurity protection, he explained. It is better to have a hog farm have distance from other pigs to reduce the possibility of spreading diseases.
This reasoning is the same cited in the 2014 approval of the large swine farm near Glen Flora. That farm operates on two parcels of land in the Town of True. The 1,200-head nucleus sow farm called Family Value Ag Farm, LLC will be located on Freestone Drive off of Edming Road. The 2,400-head off-test site called Stewardship Ag Grow to Finish Farm, LLC will be located along the east side of Range Line Road.
There is always a concern for surface and groundwater contamination whether a farm is a small dairy farm manure pit of a large operation, according to Stadnyk.
“Once they meet the design specifications, the state statutes and the local ordinances, that is what we use in order to make a final determination,” Stadnyk said. “That is why we have the standards and the review process that we have, so we can minimize that risk.”
At the meeting last week were local farmers who stand to benefit from the Four Mile LLP proposal.
“They are getting animal waste they can use as fertilizer, and the facility is in favor of it because they have an outlet to properly dispose of that animal waste and make use of it so they don’t contaminate surface water and groundwater. That is the whole purpose of the animal nutrient management plan.”
The committee will review the permit and any proposed conditions at its next meeting in August before voting on the matter.
“The nutrient management plan looks good. It is just a matter of them accepting the conditions on the permit and those are basically going to be related to making sure that they report any changes in animal unit numbers so, if they do go over that 1,000 animal unit limit, they will be required to notify us. At that point, the DNR will require a CAFO permit,” Stadnyk said.
In addition, Four Mile LLP also will likely face conditions on animal waste storage capacity and tile line runoff monitoring around the facility.
“That way if there is a problem it can be caught early and dealt with,” Stadnyk said.
Under the county’s animal waste storage ordinance, the proposal does not need county board or town board approvals. A DNR permit isn’t required as long as the animal units do not exceed the CAFO threshold.