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Large dairy farms would face additional environmental scrutiny under proposed bill

When it comes to dairy cows, 10,000 is a very big number, Rep. Kristi Pursell (DFL-Northfield) told the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday.

Dairies that large are 10 times bigger than what were considered large operations in the 1980s when environmental regulations around farm operations were being enacted, she said. 

And Pursell believes the state needs to update its processes to manage consolidation in the dairy industry with fewer farmers running bigger and bigger farms.  

“It doesn’t seem quite right that operations with 1,000 animal units and 10,000 animal units are subject to the same environmental reviews,” she said. “The scope of the project needs to match the level of investigation.”  

To that end, Pursell sponsors HF4698, which would trigger a full environmental impact statement for operations larger than 10,000 animal units. The bill, as amended, was laid over by the committee.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) compared operations that large to a small city with regards to the resources used and waste produced.

Large animal operations go through an environmental review process – generally taking a few months ­– which could trigger an environmental impact statement. The latter process could take a couple years, include environmental and social impacts, and have community involvement.

The bill would require the Environmental Quality Board to amend its rules to perform an environmental impact statement for animal feedlots of 10,000 or more animals.

Opponents say the proposed legislation would provide no additional environmental safeguards – permitted facilities are already required to have zero discharge. Requiring an environmental impact statement would only add significant delays and significant expense, said Daryn McBeth, representing the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

Rep. Steven Jacob (R-Altura) described what he saw in Winona County after it enacted a ban on large diary operations, which then either fragmented or left the county. Winona County used to be first in dairy production and now is fifth, he said.  

The result of the bill would be that cows will leave Minnesota and go to other states, he said.

Jacob also argued efficiencies of scale, such as county feedlot operators having an easier time enforcing rules at one operation instead of 10.

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