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Meadow Star Dairy gets preliminary approval

WILLMAR -- A proposed 9,590-head dairy operation near Pennock easily won a preliminary nod of approval Monday by the Kandiyohi County Planning Commission.

"I'm really excited," said Nate Hultgren, one of the directors of Meadow Star Dairy Limited Liability Partnership, following the unanimous vote by the Planning Commission.

Pending the outcome Oct. 21 of the Kandiyohi County Board, which has the final say on the conditional use permit, preliminary groundwork at the large dairy operation could begin this fall.

The goal is to begin milking 4,754 cows twice a day by this time next year.

Although the public hearing attracted nearly 100 people, the tone of the meeting was extremely civil and concerns and questions were presented calmly following a 45-minute detailed description of the project by the local developers.

County Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the "depth of study" and research conducted on the project and "dialogue" about the project before it reached the public hearing state helped carry the project through so smoothly.

The developers also took neighbors on a tour of a similar diary to lessen fears about odors.

Bruce Reuss, a member of the Planning Commission, praised the developers, the county staff and Chairman Ed Huseby for helping create a flawless process for discussing a project that could've been contentious. "Kandiyohi County was done proud tonight," Reuss said.

Located on the 160-acre site about two miles southwest of Pennock in Section 8 of St. John's Township, the proposed site is on farmland owned by the Hultgrens, who operate a fourth-generation family farm. The site is about five miles west and one mile north of Willmar in an area zoned for agriculture preservation.

Under the Meadow Star plan, 15 to 20 families would become investors in the partnership and a board of directors would be "visible" and "accountable" for the dairy, including any odors or the condition of the township road heavy milk trucks would travel on, Hultgren said.

Because the dairy would be owned by local people, and not an out-of-state corporation, high standards of being a five-star quality dairy operation would be met, he said.

Besides their word, the business will have to follow the county, state and federal requirements that pertain to large feedlots.

An environmental assessment worksheet, which measured at least 6 inches thick, provides environmental standards for the project in areas like manure management, protection of water resources and air quality.

During a presentation that Hultgren said would be boring but at least as "exciting as the Viking's offense," details about clay-lined the earthen manure pit, injection methods of manure application and storm water retention were laid out.

"We know we want to do it right," Hultgren said.

The facility will use about 190,000 gallons of water a day. While sizable, it's less than the 300,000 gallons needed for the average 18-hole golf course, according to information in their report.

The dairy will access water from a different aquifer than the city of Pennock gets its municipal water, answering concerns from city officials.

The Meadow Star Dairy will follow the model of Riverview Dairy of Morris, which will manage the local operation.

Brady Janzen, from Riverview Farms, provided details on synthetic basin covers, bio-filters and an anaerobic methane digester that would be used at Meadow Star Dairy to help improve air quality at the plant.

Besides helping to meet the Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards, the methane digester will also generate enough green electricity to power the dairy operation and the entire town of Pennock, said Kim Larson, another member of the Meadow Star LLP.

There were concerns and questions from neighbors, including Susan Kidrowski who hopes to build a retirement home on land her family owns near the proposed dairy farm. She asked who would buy a house there so close to a large dairy.

Huseby said that because the land is zoned for agriculture preservation, residents who move there have to put up with occasional odors, noise and dust.

George Barr, from Willmar, said the dairy will be like a new "satellite community" to Willmar. He wanted to know who would be monitoring the dairy to make sure they lived up to the permit.

In response to questions about a township road, Hultgren said the dairy would pay for whatever improvements the township deems necessary and would pay for any extra maintenance.

The project is a result of nearly six years of research on how to enhance livestock agriculture in the county, said Larson.

The framework for the project was laid on the foundation established by an agriculture committee that's part of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Committee, said Larson.

That committee worked with the county to establish a "livestock supportive" resolution and adopted the goal of increasing dairy cows in the county as an economic development tool. It's estimated that each dairy cow generates $14,000 annually in Minnesota.

With an estimated payroll of $1.5 million for 30 to 40 employees and property taxes of $40,000 a year, the dairy will provide a big economic boost to the county, Larson said.

Carolyn Lange

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

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