Isanti County farmers expressed concern regarding the proposed revision of the Isanti County feedlot ordinance during a public hearing held at the Isanti County Board meeting Aug. 21.
“I’ve been actively farming for 55 years and our family has been on the farm for 153 years,” Bob Olson said. “My understanding is that you have definitely figured out a way to count the livestock that are actively involved in a farm.”
Olson expressed concern that there are a handful of people who are licensed, registered or certified by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to have a feedlot and currently do not have animals.
“We made the investment as farmers to have this, and in my case, it would take multiples of a hundred thousand dollars to replace the buildings to relocate,” Olson said. “I want to be protected so that somebody doesn’t come in too close to me and I create a hazard for them. I agree with your setbacks and everything else, but I have a proposal for an additional statement that would go in there that I would like you to consider.”
Olson’s proposed added language to the ordinance includes a minimum of 1,000 feet setback for additional non-farm dwellings if an inactive feedlot is currently certified, registered or licensed by the MPCA.
According to Olson’s proposal, there are a small number of inactive operations in Isanti County. These farmers have taken the initiative to remain usable and protect sizable investments made in their facilities.
“The farmer-owners are assessed a tax value on their property for their investments and should have the ability to use them without new restrictions,” Olson said. “In my case, I have crops and I have the facility to house 75 to 100 livestock. If I had a crop failure, bad hay or immature crops, I want to be able to put the livestock back in. If I am deemed inactive, according to what you proposed so far, I may not be able to do that because somebody might have moved in or built closer than the 1,000 feet setback. I’m asking for protection for myself personally, and the other handful of people that have inactive registered and licensed feedlots to be considered as usable.”
According to Olson, the whole idea is to be proactive as a county, keep people from arguing with each other, and eliminate conflict in the future.
“The points you brought up probably had more discussion in this whole process with the planning commission and during the work sessions of the county commissioners,” Commissioner Greg Anderson said. “How do you address those situations as you described in the future if someone has the facilities capable of having animals and using them? In the meantime, someone builds a house across the road that’s going to be within a 1,000 feet. How do you accommodate those situations? I appreciate the suggestion of the amendment to the proposed revision,”
Anderson asked Isanti County Zoning Director Trina Bergloff if a variance for this issue would be appropriate in this type of situation.
“The whole problem with the current ordinance is the animals don’t have to be there and that affects other people that maybe had purchased property 20 years ago to retire on,” Bergloff said. “But now, somebody has a registered feedlot and it doesn’t allow them to use their property the way that they intended to do as well. So, it kind of works both ways; and we’re just trying to figure out a happy medium for everybody.”
Commissioner Susan Morris said ordinances can change since the owner bought the property.
The next farmer to speak during the public hearing was David Moritz, who currently has an active feedlot with approximately 40 cows.
“We started with just two steers and it began as a project with my kids. It has kind of grown since then where we’ve (heard) more from people who want to buy beef,” Moritz said.
According to Moritz, he has invested well over $150,000 into the facility he is using and would have to get 20 animals to get to 50 to comply with the ordinance.
“I’m not ready to do that now,” Moritz said. “I like to grow and sell at retail, and by making it at 50 animal units, if I don’t make that jump right now, take them to Rock Creek and do it for free, basically I don’t make any money selling that way.”
Moritz asked the board to consider revising the proposed change of 50 or more animal units present on site for a total of 45 days or more in any 12-month period for two reasons: economical and health reasons.
“I feel it should be a bigger window. If I fall down going here today or get in a car accident, my feedlot isn’t going to get filled. There’s nobody to run it and I’m done according to your ordinance,” Moritz said. “Another issue I have is we’re trying to raise our own beef. We market out own beef from calf to steers. I don’t like buying other people’s cattle and trying to put my name on it.”
The board of commissioners agreed (Commissioner Mike Warring was absent) that these issues be reviewed and discussed by the planning commission.
“For the sake of keeping things moving forward, if you are going to send it back, you should give specific parameters for the zoning department and planning commission to look at as it relates to the very specific areas,” Isanti County Attorney Jeff Edblad said. “Otherwise, we’re going to find ourselves here some months later in the exact same position.”
The board gave four specific issues for the planning commission to look at:
1. Discuss the working farms that have been there.
2. Discuss a longer period or extension of the 45 days over 12 months for unforeseen circumstances.
3. Consider the number of animal units at 50 and possibly going lower.
4. Consider some kind of administrative process for the zoning department to review in cases of unforeseen circumstances.
The board approved the motion unanimously to bring the issues regarding the proposed feedlot revisions to the planning commission.
“They’re all good points and it’s how you make one size fits all,” Anderson said.