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Our Views: Green County residents should welcome big dairy

By Gazette editorial board
August 29, 2015

It's natural that plans to build a 5,000-cow dairy in the Green County town of Sylvester would alarm some residents.

Neighbors fear odors, water pollution, dry wells and fractured roads. Some residents think the dairy will push out smaller operations and believe factory farms offer cows little comfort.

“Not in my backyard,” neighbors will argue.

Many of these same folks will bemoan the lack of jobs and dwindling farmland amid urban sprawl. Pinnacle Dairy on Decatur-Sylvester Road west of Brodhead could help ease both concerns.

Todd Tuls hopes to apply for a state permit soon. He milks 10,000 cows in Nebraska. Son T.J. oversees the 5,000-cow Rock Prairie Dairy east of Janesville. Town of Bradford residents voiced fears five years ago. But as Catherine W. Idzerda reported Sunday, few if any concerns have come true, and Pinnacle Dairy would be a mirror image of the Rock County operation.

Sure, drive by and you'll smell Rock Prairie. But covers and air filters on most manure pits trap most odors. About the closest nonfarm neighbor, a mile north, smells the farm two or three times annually. Odors those times are similar, she says, to the farm where she grew up. Another neighbor, whose farm sells silage to Rock Prairie, says she doesn't notice odors. Tim Banwell of the Rock County Health Department hasn't received complaints.

While Janesville's east side dealt with odors last weekend, those had to be from farms closer to the city.

Rock Prairie contracts with area farmers to spread manure—knifing slurry into the ground—on 6,000 acres. Independent tests of six nearby wells show nitrate levels dropped this year on four. One reason, T.J. Tuls suggests, might be that manure binds to soil better than chemical fertilizers spread previously.

Yes, Pinnacle Dairy could gobble 230,000 gallons of water daily. But like at Rock Prairie, 500-foot wells would tap an aquifer far deeper than most private wells.

The Tuls family built turn lanes so milk tankers and farm vehicles can get off Highway 14 easier and get up to speed before rejoining traffic. A front-end sweeper cleans up debris left on the road. Trucks travel routes that protect roads, even if they put on more miles.

Green County has 12 cheese factories and 30 dairy processing plants. Wisconsin still imports some milk. T.J. Tuls says that despite lower milk prices this year, his family still has a market for all it can produce.

Instead of pinching other farms, Pinnacle Dairy would pump millions of dollars into the local economy annually by buying goods, services and animal nutrition products. It would keep farmers in business by buying crops. It would support the infrastructure and agricultural service companies that other farms need.

As far as comfort, farmers know content cows produce more milk. Rock Prairie uses computers, fans and sprinkler systems. Experts staff an onsite medical facility.

The Tulses do their homework. They didn't cut corners in building Rock Prairie. They bought the best technology and went beyond requirements with manure pits. Green County residents should expect no less. The $30 million investment would create construction jobs and 50 permanent dairy jobs. Two of Todd Tuls' nephews, who grew up on dairy farms and have worked with him, would oversee Pinnacle Dairy.

These concentrated animal feeding operations, or CAFOs, are highly regulated. They're better than eight smaller farms facing fewer regulations and spreading manure the traditional way.

Sure, ask pointed questions. Object if you doubt the Tulses—that's your right. In the end, Green County should welcome Pinnacle Dairy and the jobs and economic boost it would bring.