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Farm gets preliminary approval for expansion

WILLMAR -- The different needs of an apple orchard, an expanding livestock farm and a growing city met at a crossroads Monday during the Kandiyohi County Planning Commission meeting.

At issue is a request for a conditional use permit made by Tom and Riley Gustafson. The father and son are seeking a permit to expand their barns and increase the number of dairy heifers they raise for a neighboring dairy farmer.

They currently raise the equivalent of 297.5 animal units and intend to increase to 682.5 animal units. The farm includes heifers that arrive weighing 500-600 pounds and leave weighing about 1,150 pounds.

The sixth generation farm is located in an A-1 ag preservation district, which is zoned for farms like the Gustafsons. They are seeking the expansion to carry their business into the seventh generation.

An ag preservation district is also zoned for orchards, like Adam's Apple House, which is located about a mile away from the Gustafson's feedlot. The owner, Harriet Stock, is concerned that the smell and flies from the added cattle will affect the orchard business her late husband nurtured and that she's now trying to sell.

An A-1 zone isn't designed for residential developments, although the Gustafson's farm is 2¾ miles from Willmar's eastern city limits and one mile from the edge of the town's urban growth area. Several people asked how can Willmar carry out it's goal of aggressively pursuing economic growth with a growing feedlot near its border.

More than a dozen residents from one side of the triangle or the other presented their point of view. Steve Renquist, executive director of the City of Willmar and Kandiyohi County Economic Development Commission said agriculture is the single largest business in Kandiyohi County, and farmers who follow the ordinances and environmental practices, like the Gustafsons, should be allowed to expand.

The question to ask, Renquist said, is whether houses should be allowed to be built "in farming country."

Neighbors praised the Gustafsons and said the family is very conscientious about keeping their operation clean.

Workers will even sweep manure off the county road with a broom when manure is transported to fields.

Friends of Stock pleaded on her behalf, asking that the commission at least require a buffer of trees to be planted by the feedlot to prevent odor.

"It's hard to sell apple pie with manure smell blowing in your face," Pay Loysum said.

Several Willmar residents questioned the wisdom of having a feedlot on County Road 23, which is becoming a well-traveled route into Willmar's business district and residential area. "Who wants a foul smelling farm in their backyard?" asked Eleanor Lucas.

Brenda Stensrud said there are some "beautiful homes" already built in the area and there could be more in the future. "We have a city that's trying to grow," she said. "There are plenty of areas where dairy farms would be welcome."

"We can't continue to restrict agriculture in Kandiyohi County," said Ken Behm, president of Home State Bank and a 16-year neighbor of the Gustafsons. Behm said Willmar's residential strong growth is happening to the north and northeast of town, but not east of Willmar.

Willmar Mayor Les Heitke, who grew up on a Wisconsin dairy farm, said the Gustafson's are planning for a "significant expansion" and said the commission should make their decision based on what level the odor will be on the farm in the future with the additional livestock.

Heitke asked that the planning commission treat everyone fairly.

The planning commission unanimously approved the conditional use permit. They included a recommendation that the Gustafsons plant a buffer of trees by the farm.

Chairman Dennis Goehring said the Gustafson's request "not only meets, but exceeds" every guideline the county has in place for feedlots.

The Kandiyohi County Commissioners will take final action July 18.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

(320) 894-9750