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Letter to the editor: Large dairies are not sustainable in long term
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From Ben Beardmore


To the editor:

In 2011, I relocated to Green County because I fell in love with its clean air and pastoral landscape, carefully cultivated by generations of family farmers - many of whom still work the land of their grandparents and great grandparents. I firmly believe that CAFOs like the proposed 5,000-cow dairy slated to be built in Brodhead pose a threat to Green County's most valuable assets - its land, water and air.

The "C" in CAFO stands for "concentrated", and that means a staggering amount of animal sewage every day. One dairy farm with 2,500 cows produces as much waste as a city with of over 400,000 residents. Unlike human waste, however, CAFO waste is almost never treated to reduce disease-causing pathogens such as E. coli and cryptosporidium, or remove chemicals including pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and other pollutants. Owners of CAFOs often argue that wastes produced by livestock contain nutrients that offset the use of synthetic fertilizers; however the sheer volume of waste produced is unsustainable. Within a few years, the manure overwhelms the ability of the land to absorb it, and pollutes surface and groundwater. Because of the manure lagoons' sheer size, heavy rains can cause spills that affect the entire watershed. The cost of this pollution is passed directly to the surrounding community, as cities face higher costs to treat drinking water, rural residents are forced to buy bottled water, and property values plummet.

Virtually every argument made in favor of CAFOs is based on their supposed economic benefits to rural communities. Research has shown that though CAFOs may generate profits for their owners, they do not promote rural economic development. CAFOs' business model relies on externalizing as many costs as possible while concentrating profits. They pollute their neighbors' land and deplete and pollute our aquifers. They bring in low-wage jobs and displace the small-scale farmers who are keeping Green County's traditions of high-quality dairy products alive. When environmental degradation causes local and state governments to bring in stricter regulations, they pull up stakes and move their operations to greener pastures. Simply put, CAFOs are neither environmentally nor economically sustainable.

For over 100 years, Green County has gotten agriculture right. We produce the some of the finest cheeses in the world, and attract new residents with our tradition of caring for the land and each other. Let's not mess it up.