DNR approves permit allowing El-Na Farms to add more than 3,000 cows

KEWAUNEE COUNTY, Wis. The DNR approves a permit allowing a Kewaunee county farm to more than double its cow herd size.

This is after a public hearing in June showed opposition from fellow farmers and the community because of concerns over increasing groundwater contamination. The controversy centers on El-Na Farms north of Kewaunee and just a few minutes west of Algoma.

El-Na has 2,600 cows and during the course of this new five-year permit, that number will go up to nearly six thousand cows. A herd that size would make an additional 21 million gallons of liquid manure every year. Some farmers in the area are not happy.

"The Wisconsin DNR, the governor and our state legislature are obviously not taking our water quality issues seriously, if it was going to be addressed properly there should've been at least a hold on the herd size, not an increase in one of the most vulnerable places in Wisconsin," said Lynn Utesch, Owner of Guardians of the Field Farm.

A study of the groundwater in Kewaunee County shows it is contaminated with e-coli, salmonella and high nitrates, and nearly a third of its wells have water unsafe for human consumption.

"The DNR knows full well because they participated and funded the studies that show that we have significant bovine contamination here, and yet they ignore the results of their own study, and continue to approve additional waste disposal," said Lee Luft, a committee member of the Kewaunee County Land and Water Conservation.

The farm's owner says they understand the concerns of the community but they are improving ways of dealing with the waste though testing and technology, but Utesch says there's no proven technology that will fix the issue.

Utesch met with the DNR and other farmers to talk about safer farming practices in order to improve the situation.

"I think it comes back to practices, liquid manure is one thing we should not be doing, we need to be going back to a solid manure, we need to be looking at where we're applying this manure, and when we're applying it," said Utesch.

"If all of those things were to move forward and be embraced by the farm community as some have already done, we will definitely see improvement," Luft added.