Planning Commission to recommend feedlot expansion in Agram

Staff Writer

The Morrison County Planning Commission may have unanimously recommended approval of permits for expanded feedlots in Agram and Little Falls townships, but the approval isn’t universal for residents.

At its meeting Monday, the Commission approved conditional use permits (CUPs) for Chad and Theresa Sweeney of Little Falls Township, as well as Donald Tschida, David and Merilyn Meyer and Galen and Karla Stumpf, all of Agram Township, to expand their farms to Tier II chicken feedlots.

Residents argued there should be no expansion of feedlots in the area, as Agram Township is currently suffering from some of the highest nitrate levels in drinking water in the state.

Farmers are also concerned about nitrates and other environmental factors, Tschida said.

“We’re doing everything we can to take care of that land,” Tschida said.

At his farm, manure is stored in a concrete bin or “stacking slab.”

The Sweeneys sell their manure to a crop farmer, while the Meyers and Stumpfs mostly use it on their own land.

David said he plans to get a cement stacking slab in the future, while Galen said he’d like one, but didn’t plan on committing to it since he is currently in compliance and the slabs cost a lot of money.

Morrison County Soil and Water Conservation District Manager Helen McLennan said the slabs can cost upward of $60,000, but there are cost-sharing programs with other agencies that farmers in Morrison County have very good odds of getting.

Other factors could be causing the high nitrate levels, resident Dennis Seelen said, but until the cause is known, there should be a halt to expanded feedlots.

“We don’t wait for these studies to come out and tell us who’s polluting where,” Seelen said. “We’re running too fast here and it’s something we can’t back out from if we’re wrong.”

McLennan said that to find where nitrates are coming from in the groundwater would require bringing in a geologist and a lot of time and money.

She said all four applicants are working with her department to develop responsible plans for dealing with the different minerals in nutrients from manure.

Still, Joy Leidenfrost said not all feedlots are following such practices.

“They’re hiding it (manure) behind trees, for months it sits there,” Leidenfrost said.

She said the situation around Pierz Fish Lake has gotten so bad people need to get osmosis systems to get drinking water.

Depending on the nitrate level, Rose Leidenfrost said, residents need $5,000 – $10,000 systems to get water for bathing.

Joy said she would like to see the county limit how many barns can be in a square mile.

Currently, the county says Tier II feedlots must meet a setback of 1,000 feet from residential homes, and a setback of 660 feet from another feedlot, in addition to other setbacks from roads, lakes and more.

David said he applies his manure almost immediately, while Galen said he only stockpiles his during the winter, when he can’t spread it and it is too cold to compost it like he does to reduce the amount produced.

For the three applicants who don’t have stacking slabs, the Commission added a condition that they inform the county’s feedlot officer when manure will be transferred so he can inspect how it is dealt with.

All four applications require final approval from the Morrison County Board of Commissioners at its meeting Tuesday, at 9 a.m. in the Board Room at the Morrison County Government Center.

Joy said she felt the Commission was not taking the input of residents into consideration at all.

Commissioner Randy Winscher asked what it would take for the county to deny the application.

County Attorney Brian Middendorf said if an applicant meets the county’s ordinances or addresses concerns in the conditions put on the permit, the application must be approved.

Issuing a moratorium on new feedlots, or setting a restriction on how many can be within a mile would require that the Board change the county’s ordinances, Winscher said.