Winona County halts Daley Farms dairy expansion project

A proposed dairy farm expansion in southeastern Minnesota has hit a roadblock after the county refused to make an exception to rules capping herd size.

Daley Farms was asking the Winona County Board of Adjustments for a variance, because its proposed 3,000-cow operation near Lewiston is larger than county rules allow. But the board on Thursday evening denied the request. The decision followed nearly six hours of public comment, discussion and debate, the Winona Daily News reported.

Ben Daley told the newspaper the family is disappointed and will be weighing legal options. "The amount of support that we've gotten from the whole entire county — it's just unbelievable," he said.

Daley Farms can appeal the decision, but for now, environmental advocates opposing the project are celebrating. The decision follows a separate move by the owner of a proposed hog farm in Fillmore County to withdraw his permit application.

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"The public outcry in these two areas was unprecedented. Everyone understands that the nitrate problem, in great part, is coming from agricultural sources," said Barbara Sogn-Frank, an organizer with the Land Stewardship Project.

The group's concern has to do with the risk of manure getting into groundwater and the aquifers that area residents rely on for their drinking water, contaminating it with nitrates.

"People are still living with dangerously high nitrate levels in their drinking water. And it's getting worse in many areas," Sogn-Frank said.

Excessive nitrates can cause a dangerous condition in infants known as blue baby syndrome.

Gov. Tim Walz has proposed an in-depth environmental study on nitrate pollution in southeastern Minnesota as part of his two-year budget.