Matsche Farms unveils new growth plan

County OKs adding 5,000 more cows

Leader File Photo Cows feed at one of the barns at Matsche Farms Inc., located in the town of Almon, which is seeking state approval for a significant expansion.

Leader File Photo Matsche Farms Inc., a family-owned farm in Shawano County, could rank among the largest dairy farms in Northeastern Wisconsin with its newest expansion plan.

Two years after becoming perhaps Shawano County’s largest dairy farm, Matsche Farms Inc. is seeking regulatory approval for an expansion that would boost the agricultural operation to new heights.

The family-owned farm near Birnamwood has unveiled plans for building its biggest barn yet — longer than five football fields — and adding 5,000 more cows to a herd currently estimated at 6,600.

Neighbors are voicing concern that Matsche Farms, located at N9035 River Road in the town of Almon, could become a threat to water quality and air quality in the area.

The expansion plan, however, has won approval from local and county officials, and now is headed to the state Department of Natural Resources for review.

Shawano County Supervisor Robert Krause joined other county officials Thursday in endorsing the plan, saying he is comfortable that the farm is operating safely. The county’s land conservation committee granted approval after conducting a public hearing and hearing from both supporters and opponents of the expansion.

“It’s tough being a large farm,” Krause said. “A lot of people will point a finger without doing their homework.”

State officials said the expansion, if completed, would rank Matsche Farms among the largest dairy farms in Northeastern Wisconsin, alongside Rosendale Dairy LLC in Fond du Lac County and Holsum Dairies LLC in Calumet County.

Farms with more than 1,000 animals — also known as “concentrated animal feeding operations,” or CAFOs — are regulated by the state. There are about 270 such operations throughout the state, including seven in Shawano County.

Two years ago, Matsche Farms was granted approval for an expansion that added about 4,000 cows to the herd and included construction of two new barns, a new milking parlor and a manure storage pit. Matsche Farms at the time was trailing Green Valley Dairy LLC near Pulaski as the largest farm in Shawano County.

The new plan for Matsche Farms calls for building another new barn more than 1,500 feet long, and adding another manure storage pit as well as a pond for runoff from stockpiles of animal feed. In bringing 5,000 more cows to the farm, officials want to consolidate animals currently housed at satellite operations.

Based on the government’s formula of calculating “animal units” — which varies slightly from actual animals — the farm would grow from a permitted maximum of 9,280 to 13,000 animal units. Farm officials said the actual number of cows would increase from 6,600 to 11,850.

The operation would generate about 80 million gallons of cow manure and wastewater annually, much of which would be used to fertilize thousands of acres of farmland throughout the region.

Members of the Almon Town Board added their endorsement to the plan earlier this month.

Town Chairman Jim Gutt said the Wisconsin dairy industry has evolved to include a growing number of large-scale farms. Gutt said he is pleased to see Matsche Farms doing well and growing, although he insisted that there is no particular prestige in having one of the region’s largest farms located in town.

“It’s just that it happened here,” he said. “It’s going to happen somewhere.”

State DNR officials have not announced a schedule for considering the Matsche Farms proposal. State officials are currently working with Matsche Farms to correct unrelated permit violations found in the farm’s handling of cow manure earlier this year.

Neighbors at Thursday’s county public hearing voiced concern about the recent permit violations, saying they fear that the farm expansion would pose heightened risks for water quality problems and other environmental issues.

“Think about Kewaunee, everybody,” neighbor Leslie Hill said, referring to Kewaunee County’s suspected water contamination linked to large farms operating as CAFOs.

Another neighbor, Doug Kriehn, said he is troubled by foul odors emanating from Matsche Farms. He said: “The stench has gotten horrible. I felt like I was going to vomit.”

Matsche Farms representatives offered assurances that they work hard to protect the environment and to comply with state regulations. Some neighbors spoke out in support of the farm expansion.

Neighbor Bart Schultz said he recently drilled a new well on property directly adjacent to Matsche Farms, and the drilling showed no sign of groundwater contamination.

Dairy farms are a major industry in Wisconsin, Schulz said, adding that he applauds Matsche Farms and others for adjusting to economic forces and keeping the industry alive.

“Big farms — I understand why they’re doing it,” he said. “I’m a hundred percent for it.”