WMC, Ag Industry Pressure Dooms Updated Farm Siting Rules

December 9, 2019

Efforts to update controversial state farm siting rules are likely to fail due to pressure from Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and powerful agricultural interests, which have spent millions of dollars on campaign contributions.

The state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Board was scheduled to meet this Thursday to discuss farm siting rules. But the proposed updates, which would be the first in 14 years, will likely be shelved and a new effort to update them will start next year. It’s likely any changes will not come before the board for several years, according to agriculture officials.

The siting rules enacted in 2006 give local governments siting permit regulations on property setbacks, manure storage, waste runoff management, and odor control. The proposed updates would have increased property line setbacks for manure storage and livestock facilities.

Agency rule changes must be approved by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and the GOP-controlled legislature. Republican legislative leaders and other GOP senators said this fall the proposed rules would be too restrictive on farms after WMC, the Dairy Business Association, the Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, and the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation publicly opposed the changes.

The controversy over the proposed changes was cited among the reasons that the Republican Senate rejected Evers’ choice of Brad Pfaff as agriculture secretary even though he postponed a board vote on the rules in November in a failed effort to save his job.

Agriculture interests contributed about $3.8 million to legislative and statewide candidates between January 2014 and June 2019, including more than $1.3 million to current GOP legislators. The top recipients were:

Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $268,165

Republican Assembly Campaign Committee, about $199,600

GOP Sen. Howard Marklein, of Spring Green, about $160,860

The top agriculture industry contributors to current GOP senators between January 2014 and June 2019 were:

Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation’s political action committee (PAC) and corporation, $201,000

Altria Corp. PACs and corporations, $101,400

Jeremie and Alicia Pavelski, of Wisconsin Rapids, owners of Heartland Farms, $38,325.