LEWISTON, Minn. — Land Stewardship Project (LSP) members applauded today’s decision by the Minnesota District Court to deny Daley Farm’s latest attempt to circumvent Winona County’s rules related to the size of large livestock operations. (The Court’s decision is available here.) For the past four years, Daley Farm has sought a variance from the county’s 1,500-animal-unit cap in order to expand its Lewiston dairy operation to nearly 6,000 animal units (roughly 4,500 cows). The Winona County Board of Adjustment (BOA) has twice denied the variance, and, despite strong opposition from Winona County residents, Daley officials have repeatedly turned to legal and other tactics to bypass these local government decisions.
“This is bullying, just like it is for kids in school,” said LSP member Richard Ahrens, a retired beef and crop farmer from Lewiston. “Daley knows there is an animal cap and that there are rules, and that in our county we follow the rules. The rules were made to protect the people and the land. That’s the bottom line.”
Daley Farm’s proposal would concentrate the manure of approximately 4,500 dairy cows in a region where drinking water is already plagued by such high nitrate levels that the Environmental Protection Agency recently requested that state agencies take action to protect the health of residents. Because Winona County has had an animal unit cap in place for over 20 years, Daley Farm was required to request a variance (a permit allowing the operation to go above the limit) from the Board of Adjustment (BOA) in order to quadruple the size of its operation.
“Each community is unique,” said Kelley Stanage, an LSP member from Winona and former public official who was sued by Daley Farms last year, along with other public officials. “Minnesota law allows communities to decide for themselves how their land should be used. Because of its vulnerability to pollution due to karst geology, Winona County long ago placed a cap on the number of animal units farms can have in one operation. Exceptions cannot and should not be made to this cap simply because an operation wants to bring in more money.”
“Animal unit caps are commonsense avenues for protecting water resources while shielding local communities from the kind of unprecedented consolidation that is putting small and mid-sized farmers out of business and decimating Main Street economies,” said Sean Carroll, LSP’s Policy Director. “The Daley proposal, if it had gone through, would have made this concentrated animal feeding operation larger than 99% of all livestock operations in the state, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Feedlots in Minnesota database.”
“We need a farm economy that does not incentivize the endless expansion of our farms,” said Ridgeway, Minn., dairy farmer Mike Gilles. “The natural end result of this current system will lead to a Winona County with few farms, fewer farmers and fragile rural communities. We need a farm economy that works for Winona County, not for expansion.”
Daley, backed by supporters of industrialized livestock farming on the state level, has repeatedly attempted to circumvent local county government rulings through various means, including suing Winona County over its BOA decision. It also filed a separate lawsuit against individual citizens and LSP in an attempt to silence people who have spoken out against the proposal. That latter lawsuit, which is similar to SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) strategies utilized by factory farm supporters in other parts of the Midwest, was dropped by Daley earlier this year.
Carroll said Daley’s multiple lawsuits are a waste of local public resources that could be better spent supporting a resilient farm economy.
“We have incredible opportunities to support numerous farmers who are building healthy soil and producing food in a way that supports and builds local wealth,” he said. “Allowing one special interest to utilize the legal system to gobble up public resources in an effort to advance their own growth isn’t good for the community, the economy or the land.”
During the past few years, LSP and its allies have learned of several communities in the Midwest that are facing similar intimidation tactics as factory farm proposers and their backers attempt to circumvent local democracy and the will of the people. As a result, LSP is launching a special initiative to collect the stories of rural residents who question the “get big or get out” narrative and the power and bullying tactics wielded by Big Ag. For the next 12 months, the “LSP Story Center Powerline” initiative is seeking reports and stories from rural residents across the Midwest who are being confronted with such intimidation and are fighting back, or seeking ways of fighting back.
“Through local organizing and by listening to people, LSP has learned that when we are given a chance to speak out about the kind of future we’d like to see on the landscape, it results in action to create healthy, resilient communities,” said Carroll. “Silence only benefits the ones who already have a powerful voice.”
Stories can be recorded at the LSP Story Center Powerline page: https://landstewardshipproject.org/powerline/.