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January 12, 2024
Five Minnesota agricultural organizations have filed a court motion to support a Winona County dairy farm that has not been allowed to expand its herd size.
Last week, the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation, Minnesota Pork Producers Association, Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association and Winona County Farm Bureau filed amici curiae brief in support of Daley Farms and reversing the district court’s judgment that the “Winona County Board of Adjustment did not act in an unreasonable, arbitrary, or capricious manner by denying the Appellants’ request for a variance.”
The Lewiston, Minnesota dairy farm’s current capacity is 1,700 cows and was grandfathered in after a Winona County’s ordinance limiting feedlots to no more than 1,500 animal units passed in 1998. Since 2018, the multigenerational family-owned farm has been seeking a variance, or exception, to expand to 4,500 cows, or 6,000 animal units.
The Winona County Board of Adjustment has twice denied the request. Daley Farms then sued the county, and in November, a district court judge dismissed the lawsuit, ruling the variance application was reasonably denied and there was no evidence of bias on the board.
However, the farm groups point out that decision conflicts with a 2020 district court’s summary judgement that the Winona County Board of Adjustment had prejudged the request by Daley Farms and new written arguments needed to be submitted.
The farm groups say the broad legal issue raised in this appeal is whether the Daley Farm was treated fairly by the board.
“This Court, as well as Winona County and the District Court below, are essentially caught in the crossfire of what amounts to a decades-old war between differing factions within the livestock industry over what constitutes a ‘proper’ farming operation. Intervenor/Defendant Land Stewardship Project (LSP) in particular, has, for decades, promoted the idea that only certain kinds of farming operations should be allowed by society to operate,” the agricultural organizations wrote.
In a statement issued this week, LSP called the brief a "desperate attempt to yet again bypass the will of the people and advance the interests of a select few at the expense of the community."
“Minnesota Farm Bureau supports a diverse range of farmers and ranchers across the state,” said Dan Glessing, president of Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation. “Winona County farmers have the same right to a fair and unbiased process when looking to start or expand a family farm, as do all farmers and ranchers in the state. We wish to be part of the conversation to ensure family farms are treated fairly in these matters, setting up the next generation for success and ensuring agriculture’s vitality across Minnesota for years to come.”
The legal brief filed asks the Court of Appeals to consider two concepts:
1. Whether allowing the permitting process to play out as it did for the Daleys would empower other counties to appoint biased board members to make decisions that hurt family farms.
2. Whether farms have a legal right to have their evidence decided on an expansion permit within 60 days of filing. The farm groups say the delays in the Daleys’ case have pushed the filing period far beyond that mark.
“This case is about the rights of family dairy farms and other animal agriculture operations to be judged fairly,” said Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of Minnesota Milk Producers Association. “If a farm meets the extensive environmental requirements of the law — as the Daleys have — a group of activists shouldn’t be able to stack the deck against you.”
“We need to ensure that livestock producers in the state of Minnesota are not subject to biased decision-making processes, and that they are treated fairly,” said Kaitlyn Root, executive director of Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association. “Family farms deserve the right to expand for future generations, and, just like any other business operation, they deserve the right to a fair, unbiased county board decision.”
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