by Frances Edstrom
Rarely have I been as hesitant of my position as I am in regard to the "Livestock Friendly" application that Winona County will be voting on at Tuesday's meeting.
Agriculture is probably the most important industry in Winona County, but we grapple daily with threats to that industry in the form of things such as economic and environmental pressures and encroachment from residential development.
The County has struggled for a year, for instance, with a new planning ordinance that would serve all of its constituencies.
The premise of the "Livestock Friendly" legislation is good "” to promote agriculture in the counties and in the state. It cites as disqualifications for the program (see subcategory iii, page 3A): 1. Absolute size limitations ("animal unit caps") for feedlots, 2. Moratoria on feedlot expansion or new construction, and 3. Prohibition of earthen basins for dairy manure.
"However," it goes on to say, "applications for initial Livestock Friendly County designation from counties with animal unit caps, moratoria, or bans on earthen basins for dairy will be considered by MDA on a case-by-case basis."
Winona County does have animal unit caps, at 1500 animals per feedlot site. There is much pressure from environmentalists here to enact moratoria on feedlot expansion and prohibit earthen dams. Wilson Township and Winona County are currently considering the problem of residential development in a largely agricultural area because of feedlot concerns. It seems that we in the county will be dealing with these struggles for a very long time. We need to identify the impact of this designation on the county as a whole, not just the most vocal factions.
If a county board vote on this issue is to be held Tuesday, it is rushing the process. The public at large and board members themselves need more time to let the facts and opinions surrounding this percolate down through the community. We need to weigh this Livestock Friendly designation against the pending changes to the planning ordinance, for one thing.
I understand the environmental concerns of those such as Jim Riddle, who spoke against the designation at the public meeting. But the Dept. of Agriculture says that to be a "livestock friendly" county, one must "show a commitment to protecting the environment." I also understand the economic concerns of farmers who see their future as relying on the ability to expand when changes in the industry warrant it, the way retailers have become larger to be more viable, for instance. Della Schmidt of the Chamber of Commerce presented a case for them. We must accommodate the farmer and the non-farmer.
The Livestock Friendly Designation may be able to accommodate all of us and our interests. It needs study. This is not a vote to be rushed.