Series: CAFOs, Manure And Water

Wisconsin's wealth of freshwater is foundational to the state's agricultural economy. As livestock farms in the state grow ever larger in the 21st century, their impact on this resource is growing. The largest of these farms are termed concentrated animal feeding operations, often called CAFOs. These farms with hundreds or thousands of animals not only require more water, but they also produce colossal amounts of manure. Managing this livestock byproduct is a major undertaking. Manure can serve as a resource for fertilizing crops or for generating energy. At the same time, this waste regularly enters surface and groundwater, contaminating wells and wildlife habitat. How manure is handled is a focus of policymaking, and its increasing volumes can contribute to contentious relationships between CAFO operators and their neighbors.
 
Wisconsin's agricultural bounty is possible thanks in part to the state's voluminous supply of freshwater. At the same time, the use of this resource to grow crops and nourish livestock poses risks to the quality of these waters.
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The Wisconsin Legislature voted to postpone a proposal to increase fees on concentrated animal feeding operations. Wisconsin Dairy Alliance president Cindy Leitner and Wisconsin's Green Fire executive director Fred Clark discuss the scope of the proposal.
The quality of drinking water resources is increasingly an area of focus among Wisconsin's political leaders. Their efforts, in turn, are generating significant interest around the state.
A maelstrom of economic and demographic forces are hammering Wisconsin's dairy farmers. But what's causing such exceptional distress in one of the state's iconic industries?
A analysis released in January 2019 shows more than 40 percent of private wells in southwestern Wisconsin failed to meet drinking water standards. Meanwhile, rules implemented in the summer of 2018 attempt to curb groundwater contamination in other parts of the state.
Commodity prices, tariffs and the global market for agricultural products are weighing on Wisconsin farms. Kevin Bernhardt, a professor of agribusiness at UW-Platteville, discusses future prospects for farmers in the state.
Phosphorus is a well-known culprit for water quality problems in Wisconsin, and an excess of this nutrient in soils impedes efforts to clean up lakes. Several groups of people play critical roles in reducing phosphorus pollution and improving lakes – farmers, policymakers and scientists, to name a few – but how does the "average" person fit in?
Efforts to have science inform law have played out vividly over the past 20 years of disputes over high-capacity groundwater wells in Wisconsin.
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A circuit court judge ruled against a Wisconsin Attorney General opinion that directed the state Department of Natural Resources to not consider the cumulative impact of high-capacity wells. Carl Sinderbrand, lead attorney for Clean Wisconsin in its lawsuit, discusses the case.
Up to 60 percent of sampled wells in a Kewaunee County study contained fecal microbes, many of which are capable of making people and calves sick, two scientists told hundreds of local residents gathered at a public meeting on June 7.