Costs of CAFO appear to outweigh benefits

By Jennifer Dolan When considering the proposed Wysocki concentrated animal feed operation in the towns of Richfield, Saratoga and Grant, one must apply a simple cost/benefit analysis to determine if the benefit of about 20 jobs with estimated annual salaries of $30,000 is actually worth it. We enter into the territory of the fallacy known as “slippery slope” when we simply tout jobs, no matter the cost.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with the fine people of Saratoga. The residents of the community I had grown up in are carefully considering the perceived benefits and perceived costs of the proposed dairy, which would include over 6,000 bovine units.

The biggest concern is regarding water, since high capacity wells would need to be drilled, a practice which contributes both to drawdown and increased nitrates in the groundwater. On top of the deep well drilling, the manure, either sprayed on crops or seeping into the soil from the 20-40 million gallon lagoon, would likely further contaminate groundwater with nitrates, bacteria, and antibiotics. There is also the potential for dioxin contamination from pesticides used in the produce farm.

Those are the environmental impacts, but what of the economics? Currently, Saratoga has a high water table, which means that many residents do not have traditional wells on their property but rather sand points, many as shallow as 20 feet. With the added water demands, many residents would be forced to spend between $7,000 and $8,000 to drill a new well should the CAFO go in. Upon understanding such a palpable concern, one can clearly see that this is not the “not in my backyard” issue it is painted to be by so many supporters of the CAFO.

Another cost for the people of Saratoga would be the increased property taxes to pay for additional road maintenance, new equipment and further training for emergency workers so that they could readily handle disasters that are unique to large agricultural operations. The unfortunate thing is that the increased property taxes also come bundled with decreased property values. To put it bluntly, no one wants to live next door to a CAFO.

It seems to me that this is all pretty basic economics 101 stuff; the CAFO’s costs to the people of a community outweigh the benefits. I realize that some are critical of the residents and town board of Saratoga because they also opposed a large-scale potato farm for some of the same reasons. Maybe nitrate contamination (a direct cause of blue baby syndrome) is not an issue that many people understand, but look at any battle waged in this state over water rights, and it is an issue that is front and center.

You cannot blame people for not wanting to get sick, or for not wanting to pay more money than they can afford to in order to compensate for something like this coming in. To point fingers at Saratoga and cry “selfish,” is only displaying ignorance and insensitivity. Certainly Wisconsin Rapids has done its fair share of nay-saying to businesses that posed less of an environmental impact, and less costs as a whole.

When it comes to attracting businesses to the area, shouldn’t we look to fill the vacancies in our own industrial park first? A business that uses city water as opposed to needing to drill a high-capacity well to operate would automatically have less impact on natural resources.

If you are a person who sees CAFOs as a necessary evil, you may want to reexamine food systems and your own purchasing decisions. I, myself, have always purchased local pasture-raised meat, eggs and dairy, and organic produce. The reason why you seldom see e-coli, salmonella or listeria contamination in organic produce is because it is not sprayed with manure. The over-fertilization of produce is a by-product of factory farming, because something has to be done with the huge amounts of waste. The manure from many CAFOs is largely unusable as manure for individual gardeners because of the heavy concentration of ammonia. I know several individuals who have received manure from a CAFO in Nekoosa only to have it kill the plants in their garden.

The other simple lesson in economics is that markets can decide. Markets can decide if we want agribusiness such as this CAFO, where a few people make millions of dollars, or if we want numerous small farms where millions of people make a decent wage. I realize that sometimes the cost of organic and pasture-raised is a bit higher, but as market demand goes up, costs go down, and there is a real savings when it comes to healthcare dollars, since pasture-raised meat and dairy have Omega 3 fatty acids that most Americans are lacking in, and since animals are not fed a constant diet of sub-therapeutic antibiotics there is less potential for antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria to be present.

Outbreaks of illnesses such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are really an epidemic that has come about because of the factory farm practice of feeding healthy animals in confined spaces antibiotics as preventative medicine, and not actual treatment for disease. The reason behind this practice is because farmers realize that when you crowd animals that are meant to graze on pasture into a small in-door space, it is more likely that they will get sick. It was thought to be efficient and cost-effective to include antibiotics in feed as a preventative measure, but antibiotics are not designed as preventative medicine but as treatment, so now we have super bugs.

In coming weeks, we will have ample opportunity as a community to learn more about the proposed CAFO. Meetings are held at the Saratoga town hall every Thursday evening at 6 p.m.

Jennifer Dolan is a Wisconsin Rapids resident