Causing a stink

(First published in the June 20, 2019 issue of City Pages)

A proposed farm expansion has residents concerned about smell, contamination from manure


Gerald Marquardt is one of dozens not thrilled at the prospect of increase manure on site at the Wittenberg Embryo Transfer farm in the town of Wausau.

Gerald Marquardt lives about 500 feet from the site of a proposed cow farm expansion in the town of Wausau, near the intersection of county Hwys J and N, just a few miles east of Wausau city limits. And like roughly two dozen nearby residents, he’s not pleased with the prospect of increased smell and potential contamination that could come from the site.

Marquardt and others were in the crowd last Thursday night at the Weston Safety Building to listen to a presentation by Marathon County Planning and Zoning Department officials, as well as representatives of Wittenberg Embryo Transfer, the owner of the farm being expanded.

Under the proposed project, the farm would expand from 352 animal units to 924. Under state statute, counties have authority to license farms between 500 and 999 animal units. (An adult cow equals about 1.4 animal units, explains Marathon County’s Paul Daigle.) The county’s licensing looks at things such as nutrient management practices, emergency plans, employee training and facility plans. With 1,000 animal units or more, the operation would fall under the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources licensing, which is much more restrictive, explains County Planning and Zoning Conservation Analyst Ken Pozorski. That includes a ban on winter manure spreading, for example.

Although some dairy farming happens on the site, it’s really more focused on breeding and growing calves, explains Luke Prososki, whose father owns the farm. The expansion would also change the operation. Instead of hauling manure, it would store roughly 3.2 million gallons of manure on site.

Residents weren’t happy about the changes. Concerns included the potential for environmental runoff, contamination of wells and the possibility of a bad smell. There was also concern about the use of water drying up wells near the site.

“I’ve had a well there for 49 years, then this comes in across the road and next year my well goes dry,” Marquardt says. “Who pays for that?”

James Kurth, who also lives near the site, says it’s unfair that people living near the site should have to pay to test their own wells to determine later if there’s contamination from the new farm. And he says it doesn’t seem like the growing population of that area was taken into account, nor were changing weather patterns that have been increasing precipitation that could lead to more runoff.

“So basically they’re keeping this farm below the 1,000 number [that would trigger DNR regulations],” Kurth says. “That sounds like an odor of a different kind.”