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Dave Skoloda

Dave Skoloda

Just before Christmas, an area dairyman I’ve known for some time told me that he had sold his dairy cows; the low milk prices and mounting costs of operations had made it impossible for him to continue, he said with a rueful smile.

His exit from milk production maybe didn’t show up as one of the 800 Wisconsin dairy farms that went out of business in 2019; his farm has other enterprises that will continue so he didn’t want me to identify him.

But his account of the sale of his herd put a face, and not a happy one, on the story of the painful condition of dairying in Wisconsin and elsewhere in the country because of the milk surplus and resulting low dairy prices.

And if you are wondering why there is such a surplus of milk, the Arizona Republic newspaper ran an in-depth study late in December that gives us a clue.

Seven giant farms “are draining Arizona’s aquifers,” the paper reported, one of them a huge dairy CAFO (confined animal feeding operation) that plans to increase its number of cattle in Arizona to 150,000.

The same company, Riverside LLC, based in Morris, Minn., has 60,000 milk cows in western Minnesota in nine dairies and is building more, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The Arizona operation’s water (a cow needs about 20 gallons or more a day) is supplied by 420 wells. Ninety of those wells are deeper than 1,000 feet and the deepest at nearly 2,500 feet, according to the Republic’s report.

Wisconsin also has its share of big operations tapping groundwater with high-capacity wells, although not to that scale.

Still, one of the largest dairies, the New Chester Dairy, a 9,000-cow operation in Adams County, will produce in addition to milk some 110,864,079 gallons of manure and process wastewater a year to be spread over 49,000 acres, most of it under leases or other agreements with other farmers in the county, according to its state permit. That’s more than 75 percent of the cropland in Adams County.

And one more “before Christmas” observation: On a drive home from a visit with family in Shawano, Gretchen and I saw big equipment at a dairy operation field spreading manure on snow just across the highway from the Yellow River and just upstream of Lake Dexter, a popular lake for fishing in Wood County.

Farmers are allowed to spread on frozen ground under certain conditions, but the regulations are complicated and enforcement has been lax, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series of stories about the state’s dairy crisis. Spreading manure that close to a river and upstream of a lake did not strike us as sensible whatever the regulation allowed.

So, these three holiday observations prompted my rethinking on the dairy industry that has served the state so well.

In Wisconsin, the Supreme Court may decide soon on whether the Department of Natural Resources can continue to authorize new high-capacity wells when the cumulative effect harms the wells of neighbors and depletes waters of lakes and streams. Approvals of the big dairy wells have been contentious.

In some areas of Wisconsin with thin topsoil and porous bedrock, manure spreading contributes to contamination in groundwater and in other areas runoff contributes to toxic algae blooms in surface water.

Although state government officials have promised action, there is little indication that it will come soon; the dairy industry wields political clout and it is resisting proposed changes in regulating manure or fertilizer use. The Republican-led Legislature refused a proposal by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers to provide more funds for DNR surveillance of CAFO operations.

I confess here to some nostalgia about Wisconsin’s dairy history.

Gretchen’s family operated a dairy farm that had been in the family since the end of the Civil War. As a reporter, I visited dairy farms throughout the state and have observed for decades the contributions of dairying to the state’s economy and culture — a culture that included a rural landscape of independently owned farms whose families traded, banked, worshiped and participated in civic events in small towns across rural Wisconsin.

Tell me what sense is there in a model that is allowing such social disruption based on the free and copious use of the public’s precious water resources.

And how does it make sense to allow such concentrated pollutants to be spread untreated in huge quantities on the landscape? The Journal Sentinel put it this way: “The largest Wisconsin CAFOs — those with 6,000 cows — generate as much manure and urine as 252,000 people, on par with Madison. “

The American Public Health Association in November called for a moratorium on any new or expanded CAFOs. The association cited “a range of public health and ecological hazards, including large volumes of untreated animal waste, the release of environmental contaminants to air, water, and soil, and the generation and spread of antibiotic-resistant pathogens.”

Much has been made of the efficiency of large-scale operations that has spurred their rapid growth during the past decade.

But before we give up on the culture that has shaped rural Wisconsin, we should have some answers on whether those efficiencies of lower-cost operations in the big dairies will hold up under stricter regulation.

What will happen to costs of operation if their effluent must be treated before release into the environment, if the uncertainty of the availability of immigrant labor on which many of them depend continues, and if their water use is properly regulated?

I’m betting they won’t, and by then it will be too late to recover what has been such a vital part of the social and economic fabric of rural Wisconsin.

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(16) comments

Hive

Okay, "Come a little bit closer, hear what I have to say." NYoung.

Most firms are corporate; corporate purports to be "person."

When any person declines from acts of business, the activity is "zero-sum" or winner and loser.

A successful firm that begins to feed shareholders using deeds that harm and government indemnifies, is playing a zero sum game...INW, taking two-steps and backing one step. Not a democracy, so some fight with what is at hand...

Here is the rub for us, Hegel defined what he called the "dialectic," thesis, antithesis, synthsis.

Our chooice is our choice, by design...Constitution. Do we live under our rule (democracy) as we define them or not? Applies universally, to choices, to freedoms, to everthing, including agri,...what is the point of this governance if we do not grant it because it might be inconvenient?

lemon drop

Absolutely, what goes around comes around! We will see how true this statement really is with respect to Winona county government. I agree with your statement that if corporate ag and only few people prosper it's not in the best interest of the county. But!! If only LSP is throwing out that terminology and thought process and not the greater Winona county than who is the minority? I'll say it again Hive, if it's so black and white, why put LSP yes people on the boards?

LetsBeSerious

It's not black and white it's red: https://www.mda.state.mn.us/sites/default/files/inline-files/winona2016initial.pdf

Hive

No!

Agri has an obligation to others, not its corporate or business self...non zero sum benefits everyone!

Hive

Exactly, lemony! Might heed your own roadapples and think of the village you must live in, not the ones from whom you curry favor.

Remember, what goes around, comes around, always.

Somevillager is harmed because of your selfishness, what?

lemon drop

It's so refreshing how JD12 and get off my lawn Hive bully and gang up on opposing views. Remember just because you don't like it doesn't make it less true.

jdinfinity3

No doubt Hive. And all she does is deflect blame, point fingers and accuse others.

That way she doesn't have to hold herself and her crony sellout big ag peeps responsible for the damage they cause to people and the environment.

It is totally soulless to be that type of person imo.

To have no concern for the welfare and safety of the county, through either contaminated water tables, eutrophication, sand particulate from frac. And how those will hurt future generations. Children, our way of life...

And her condescending, talk down to someone attitude, with use of the word, 'dear'.

Tone deaf.

It's a despicable affront that she's even on the board, and hopefully more of these others coming in will as she suggested will take her spot too.

Rightly so.

Hive

Lemony gots hers...grew up without nitrates, nitrites, fertilizers and most bug killers, save DDT, which we finally figured out was a killer, etc. and still she expects those growing up to day to put up with corporate bullroar, so she can be known and protector of the family farm and defender against the state doing the people needs.

Be glad I am not on the County Board or a legislator, all such thing would be banned, until proven harmless (which is opposite of what is done. Selfish madness! People first...

And, despite her prattle, this will change, but like the good neocon she is, she will go down chortling her republican bullroar, unitl shut.

lemon drop

This and other articles didn't say the dairies were or went bankrupt, in fact Skoladas article said his friend was doing something else as is most. Tap in that the average age of a farmer is pretty old considering, without other family to come into the operation. I am rather on point. I travel mostl of the midwest and see farms of all size and yes equipment of all sizes. I was just merely pointing out it doesn't matter anymore the size of farm to equipment. Maybe that is Skoladas downfall in the first place, he talks reminiscent about farming perhaps he has not been on one for some time and can't imagine what he sees, and assumes?

Anyone in Winona county and even Houston county that have spoken against frac or dairies have been appointed to boards. Even after moving here for just 6 months. So the fact that Skolada speaks against farms he doesn't like and moving here for a job isn't that big of a stretch. You can keep calling me every name in the book, I know who it's coming from dear. JD3 or 4 or whatever

jdinfinity3

Ok, lemme get this straight ld. The 2 reasons are. 1. No families to take it over. And 2. The farmer's responsibility for the acquisition of new equipment, to have the infrastructure to farm in the 21st century, to replace depreciated old equipment...

And the reason people/farmers are leaving the dairy industry? Is not because of farms going bankrupt, due to the market? Really? Really?

Now I want to get this straight, because apparently, from where I see it, you are piling up a huge pile of your own manure to cover up the truth ld.

So, how does a farmer afford new equipment, when they can barely scrape by a living, with the markets being as dismal as they are? As such, how can they compete with big dairy, which will stomp them out, because they/big dairy can afford the equipment?

Furthermore, one can draw a parallel that by keeping a market as low as it is, it benefits the big ag/dairy farms to suppress the small farms, by forcing them out of business. More $$$$ for the big ones...

And finally, an ad hom attack on the article writer, saying his loyalties would be best served on the board? Classy..

How ignorant, uninformed, issue dodging, can one be?

LD, your arguments are obfuscated lies, garbage, and dodges to defend the despicable nature of big ag, big dairy.

And myself, and others, are not stupid enough to fall for it.

Mr.Johnson

Cow manure can be turned it on renewable energy. The pollution issue will be solved by technology. No need to beat each other up about it.

https://www.sustainability-times.com/low-carbon-energy/cow-dung-can-be-a-source-of-renewable-energy/

https://suscon.org/project/cow-power/

Hive

Lemony you suffer from a severe case of "empistemic closure," so much so in the early days of America, you would have been tarred and feathered...and exiled.

lemon drop

So much for the truth I guess

lemon drop

Some quick observations about Mr. Skoladas article. While I don't like seeing dairies leave the business, the first 2 reasons why they leave the industry is 1 not having family to take it over and 2 old facilities. The other comment I have is even smaller farms have big equipment and or hire it out with business that have big equipment. 3rd. I just drove back through Houston county again and seen many small farms spreading liquid manure on snow. To mr skoladas point yes that should not happen, but chances are the farm he saw didn't have the regulations because they were small, so they could spread on frozen ground just like they can in mn. Puff piece for LSP without having someone dirty hands on it. Skolada should move to Winona county, he would be put on a board quickly there.

Hive

Population...at some point we must acknowledge our mutual needs. When will corporate, as is the case with this dairy herd example, dis allow excesses that drive complaints?

Like Trump vs all not Trump...stupid to think it helps anyone...including the dinger Himself or losers who prefer lies and deceits!

PC-ness and politics...two hens strutting around like seminal roosters but are really barron and sterile as a beach.

jdinfinity3

Very clearly, the agricultural future outlook for our country is polluting, wasteful and unsustainable.

Furthermore, each soulless corporate big ag entity should be held liable for damages they cause to the health and safety of both peoples and the environment.

Until that happens, little may be done to change the system...

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