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Making space for agriculture in Kandiyohi County

WILLMAR -- Before people build a new home in the country, they should know a few things about farming -- like the noise, odors and slow seasonal traffic that's part of doing business in the country.

To help increase understanding between longtime rural residents and new country dwellers, a Kandiyohi County ag committee wants information about agriculture to be given to individuals when they apply for permits to build a home in the country.

The Agribusiness and Renewable Energy Committee, which is part of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, voted Thursday to recommend that the two-page documents be given out when people apply for building permits in rural areas.

The committee will be asking the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners to make the document called, "So you are moving to the country ... What can you expect?" a mandatory part of the application process. If the County Board agrees, the 14-point document would be given to anyone applying for a building permit outside the city limits. The applicant would be asked to sign his name to the document to acknowledge reading it.

The effort is part of the committee's goal to make it easier for agriculture, especially livestock agriculture, to grow in the county. The committee has also hired Kim Larson to meet with all 24 townships in the county to discuss the economic value of agriculture to the county and the process for siting livestock operations in townships. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture has also hired an individual, Rob Sip, to help counties and townships work through livestock siting issues. Sip was at the ag committee's meeting to lend his support to Kandiyohi County's ag committee.

Larson said part of the process of working with townships includes addressing the responsibility of the producer who wants to develop a feedlot. Larson said producers should meet with township officers to address issues like soil, water and air-quality issues, the impact to natural habitat and the community image of a feedlot proposal.

Larson said he also encourages township supervisors to outline areas on their township maps that don't have residential growth and could be preserved for agriculture.

Currently, none of the county's townships has adopted a livestock ordinance. Larson said a township in a nearby county, which he declined to identify, adopted such an ordinance that imposed wide buffer zones around homes that left only a few small dots of land available for livestock agriculture.

Larson said that kind of "knee-jerk" reaction can be devastating to farmers who want to expand their family livestock operations.

"As time marches on, these agricultural zones will continue to shrink," said Bob Meyerson, a committee member. "Do we throw up our hands?" he asked. "Or can something be done?"

Two years ago, at the recommendation of the ag committee, the Kandiyohi County Board adopted a livestock-supportive policy. That policy, current zoning regulations and working with townships will help livestock agriculture retain space to grow in the county, said Larson.

But Steve Renquist, executive director of the EDC, said urban sprawl will continue to happen and agriculture will continue to be at risk in Kandiyohi County unless a more "militant" step is taken to prevent residential housing in some areas.

He said it's happened in traditionally rural communities across the country and it will happen here too unless the county specifically tells people where housing can happen and where it can't. He said cities spell out where industrial, business and multifamily dwellings can happen and counties need to do the same kind of zoning or risk losing their agricultural land.

"But I don't know if we have the political will to do that type of zoning," said Renquist. "No one likes to be told what to do."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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