Ostrander feedlot ordinance put on hold

By : 
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy
Spring Valley Tribune

A farmer who owns land in the city of Ostrander addressed the Ostrander City Council Monday, March 5, about his concerns that a potential feedlot ordinance would adversely impact the future of his farm business that has been in the family since 1959.

City attorney Jennifer Gumbel told the council that the Zoning Board recommended to extend an agricultural moratorium for three more months while discussions about what is and is not allowed within Ostrander is carried out. Gumbel outlined that the moratorium expired this week, but the Zoning Board had asked for a workshop to deal with the matter further. After discussion, the council voted to extend the moratorium 90 days.

Dan Miller, who farms in Ostrander as well as east of Spring Valley, came before the council with some objections to conditions laid out in the proposed zoning ordinance that would govern his farming operations, such as a limit of 99 animal units and 24-hour disposal of deceased animals.  He read a letter to the council that he had written in advance of the meeting.

His letter explained that he discussed the issue with city clerk Wendy Brincks and Gumbel.  He also stopped at the Ostrander clerk’s office to pick up a copy of the proposed feedlot ordinance, and visited with Mike Frauenkron, Fillmore County feedlot officer. 

“We desire to continue to be a good farming neighbor as we have been for the past 60 years.  Our family cares about the Ostrander community and we feel we can coexist in the future.  We do business locally.  I have a great-great-grandfather who was a Civil War veteran buried in the Ostrander cemetery, and I will join him there in the far distant future.  My kids are now very involved and taking over the farm also,” his letter stated.

After reading through the proposals, he had the following suggestions, as stated in his letter that he read to the council: “Currently, we are registered for 168 animal units, as you can see by our feedlot registration. That is roughly the number of animals we have had on the farm at least back as far as the 1960s.  It would be an erosion of our landowner rights to further restrict us. 

“Second, restricting manure application on our 80-acre farm makes it almost impossible for us to continue with the animals and is an extreme hardship and restriction on our landowner rights.  We have always tried to be sensitive to the type of manure we spread, the wind direction, and the proximity to nearby residents in the past, and of course would in the future.  We are certifying 80 acres as organic in 2019 so that we can avoid chemical use and drift of herbicides and insecticides, as well as chemical fertilizers, but a farmer needs to use natural manure in the organic system so as not to deplete the soil of nutrients and use good crop rotation to be certified.  In 1998, we were honored as Fillmore County Conservation Farmers of the Year and we aim to maintain the standard in the future.” 

His letter noted that the State of Minnesota, as detailed in the Minnesota Board of Animal Health law, requires deceased animal disposal within 72 hours.  Darling International serves Fillmore County, but “if I speed-dial Darling International the moment an animal dies, it may take up to 72 hours before they arrive.  Imposing further fees and taxes on our feedlot as proposed serves only to add another unnecessary and burdensome level of cost to our farming operation at a time when net farm income has decreased roughly 50 percent in Fillmore County from 2013.” 

Miller maintained that the city’s 24-hour animal disposal policy would be too difficult to meet, even if he attempted to comply with it by contacting the rendering company immediately after an animal dies on his farm. 

He also wanted to know how the manure from his operation affected Ostrander residents, as he felt that he and his family had done what is necessary to control odors while farming responsibly. 

Councilor Dan Hellerud stated that two summers ago, he had experienced drifting manure odors and that he was unable to clear his home of the smell. 

“The only real problem brought up was the stench.  I’ve never had that until two years ago.  I’ve lived there 20 years, but overall, two years ago, it got really bad,” he said. “I’d have to have the windows closed and the air conditioner on.  It was bad, but I don’t know why.” 

Miller replied that two years ago, he’d changed his herd’s rations at the advice of a nutritionist, but found that the rations were not proving as useful as intended and also created a stronger aroma than imagined. 

Hellerud asked if Miller had fewer animals on his feedlot than the year before, and the farmer answered that the number stood at the same as the previous year. 

Miller wanted to know, “How is manure-spreading a problem?” 

Hellerud, after the vote passed to extend the moratorium another 90 days, said, “Everyone here has smelled manure. We live rural, but stockpiling manure…I don’t know if that was the issue.” 

Audit “clean”

In other action at the council meeting, councilors heard the audit presentation as given by Smith, Schafer & Associates representatives, with the results of the audit being a clean opinion of the city’s 2018 finances, though limited personnel “limits the city’s ability to segregate accounting duties,” as is common with small towns. 

A financial summary provided by Smith, Schafer & Associates shared that the city’s general cash fund balance equal 177 percent of its annual general fund expenditures, that its Economic Development Authority (EDA) increased its reserves by $1,474 due to allocation of property taxes, that the water and sewer funds are generating sufficient cash flow to service debt and improve cash reserves.     

Blizzard cleanup went well

Councilors also commended the efforts of its city maintenance worker and several residents for lending a hand and equipment to clearing the streets following the Feb. 24 blizzard.

“Snow removal went extremely well, and if you have any suggestions, anything…let us know,” Brincks stated.

City maintenance man Jeff Tart stood to thank all who gave their time to assist him.  “I want to thank everybody who helped with snow removal.  A lot of people helped,” he said.

Mayor Pam Kunert added, “You guys really did a great job.”  

Infrastructure report

Brincks and Kunert led the council in various items of importance and housekeeping, such as inviting a report from Bolton & Menk engineer Brian Malm, who stated that the first phase of replumbing the city’s infrastructure has reached final inspection of piping, and the second phase entails drafting a working design of the water tower and piping the rest of the town.  He went on to point out that the city’s number two and number three wells are working but that the number one well had been sealed and removed, with demolition pending. 

Brincks questioned, “When’s the start of phase two?” 

Malm replied, “This summer yet — that’s the goal.  We’ll have three contracts — the water tower, sewers and water, and the roadway restoration.” 

The council then voted to grant an amendment to pay $67,000 for the phase one improvements and add 85 days for inspection to the owner contract.  Brincks highlighted that because the project is shared with the county and the city is reconstructing a county road, Fillmore County could share approximately half the cost of the project.  The projects are contingent on news from Rural Development, but the county sent an e-mail to Brincks pledging some support of road reconstruction.

Other items

Kunert asked the council if setting Ostrander’s National Night Out celebration for Tuesday, Aug. 13, might be easier to accommodate because of an event already on the calendar, and the councilors agreed, going on to hear that this year’s Uffda Days festival might not take place with the usual activities because of street construction. 

“We don’t know if it’s something we can handle, or if the mud bogs will still be held,” Kunert said. “Most likely, the park area will not have access safely.”

Lastly, the councilors passed a series of resolutions supporting actions proposed by the Southeast Minnesota League of Municipalities (SEMLM), including supporting the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation’s (SMIF) rural childcare efforts, bonding for the Rochester International Airport to replace a runway, speaking in favor of the southeast Minnesota diversification revolving loan program and the Department of Employment and Economic Development’s (DEED) economic diversity revolving loan fund.