Open Letter to Wisconsin Representatives on Farming and the Environment

Rural Wisconsin needs leadership, a kind that is proactive and creative with respect to our rural communities and the environment. What we have received, especially after this last round of extreme weather events in August, fell far short of what was needed. Instead of planning for the inevitable, our state representatives react as if tornadoes and floods are rare.

They are not, as one hundred year rains have occurred several times in the past decade and tornado alley appears to be shifting Eastward into the Midwest. With ever-increasing frequency, throughout the year, our communities are left without power, water, housing, and in some cases, food. In extreme cases, farmers are losing animals and in general are kept out of their field by excessive precipitation. Much valued top soil is finding its way down the Mississippi into the Gulf of Mexico, and roads are destroyed by the rain water that is flowing over them.

Many farmers now face the grim prospect of another year of seeing their bottom line in red while politicians debate policy particulars and ignore the changing climate, falling farm prices and overall rural decline of our state.

Rural communities can’t wait for FEMA studies. Moreover, Wisconsin deserves a state-specific kind of disaster planning and response policy that will allow us to confront extreme weather in a way that is appropriate to the Midwest.

Let’s make this latest wave of disasters that struck Wisconsin serve as a lesson learned.

Proactive, innovative policies that confront extreme weather would encourage a variety of things, amongst which we propose:

  1. Place a one-year moratorium on new or expanding CAFOs and enforce existing laws that limit the impacts that these large-scale facilities have on groundwater, surface water and air quality. The factory farms in our state generate millions of gallons of waste from too many animals confined in too little space. When combined with the potential nutrient runoff from farm fields in the event of a natural disaster, record algae blooms have been recorded in many Wisconsin lakes. Meanwhile, the 20 highest flood crests of the Baraboo River have occurred in the past 10 years. With more animals concentrated in CAFOs and more row crops planted, our state faces unsustainable levels of runoff and the contamination of our surface and ground water.
  2. Strengthen protections for wetlands and promote conservation. Wetlands are our buffers from floods. We need to conserve existing wetlands and impede urbanization that destroys marshes around the state. In addition, the removal of buffer strips, riparian waterways, pasture and permanent sod cover to facilitate the expansion of CAFOs and continuous rotation of corn and soybeans has created an environmental disaster for Wisconsin promoting more frequent and devastating flash floods that destroy not only farmland but our roads, bridges and rural communities.
  3. Provide financial Incentives for farmers to diversify their cropping systems and put animals back on the land. Rural Wisconsin needs more pasture, sod cover and less dependence on continuous row crop production that depletes soil organic matter and leaves it subject to erosion in these times of repetitive 100 year rains. Lack of diversity and the over-production of the commodity crops needed for confined feeding operations has led to low prices in every sector of agriculture, as well as contributing to recent environmental disasters.
  4. Incentivize the creation of buffer strips near waterways. Their removal to facilitate the expansion of CAFOs and the continuous rotation of corn and soybeans has created an environmental disaster for Wisconsin promoting more frequent and devastating flash floods that destroy not only farmland, but our roads and bridges. 
  5. Create a state-wide critical response team to visit disaster sites and help survivors immediately after a state of emergency is declared. Many families struggle with making insurance claims, finding housing, and locating food and medical supplies after a disaster. A permanent state committee must be created to immediately facilitate access for rural people to such resources, especially as many people live far from cities.

As public servants, representatives are charged with responding to demands from their constituents. Our state cannot afford to turn its back on rural people in this time of crisis - Wisconsin is a place for everyone. Let's not fall victim to the next extreme weather disaster that hits Wisconsin. We demand that our representatives take more responsible, proactive measures to protect our communities and the future viability of Wisconsin agriculture in the face of climate change.

For Immediate Release - Mon. Oct. 29th, 2018

Contact:

Joel Greeno, President of Family Farm Defenders (Kendall, WI) #608-462-3560

Jim Goodman, Executive Board Member of Family Farm Defenders (Wonewoc, WI) #608-495-0160

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John E. Peck Executive Director Family Farm Defenders, P.O. Box 1772, Madison, WI 53701 tel./fax. 608-260-0900 www.familyfarmdefenders.org