Fillmore County doubles its animal unit cap for feedlots

The county's board of commissioners voted unanimously to change the feedlot limit from 2,000 animal units to 4,000 AU

Trinity Johnson, center, reviews a map of Fillmore County's feedlots and wells that have been tested for nitrates while Tom Thompson, left, and Commissioner Duane Bakke, right, listen to public comment during the Fillmore County Planning Commission meeting in Preston on Feb. 16, 2023. On Tuesday, the Fillmore County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to change the county's animal unit cap from 2,000 to 4,000.
Dené K. Dryden / Post Bulletin

PRESTON, Minn. — The Fillmore County Board of Commissioners followed the advice of the county's Planning Commission, increasing the county's animal unit cap from 2,000 AU to 4,000 AU with a unanimous vote Tuesday, Feb. 28.

County Administrator Bobbie Hillery said the commissioners did not hear testimony from the crowd that packed the county board chambers. However, the agenda packet included nearly 70 pages of compiled emails, letters and other correspondence from the public, state agencies, and other organizations with comments both for and against the proposed change.

Additionally, a public hearing was held Feb. 16 before the Planning Commission in which dozens of people came forward to speak on the subject. The board had access to all those comments from the public hearing as well, Hillery said. Also, a petition full of names opposed to the change was delivered Tuesday to the Board of Commissioners.

The correspondence and testimony was largely against the change in the animal unit cap, with people expressing concern about the environmental impact larger feedlots would have on air and water quality. However, supporters pointed to the rigorous process for feedlot expansion required by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as well as the need for farmers to have the option to expand their businesses.

While the county currently has no applications for expansion of any feedlots that would exceed the former threshold of 2,000 AU, there are currently seven feedlots in excess of 1,000 AU — the number that triggers an environmental assessment worksheet by the MPCA — in the county, two of which are close to 2,000 AU, said Zoning Administrator Cristal Adkins.


Commissioner Duane Bakke said one dairy farm in particular is right up against what was the 2,000 AU cap.

"That's where the request came from. They have eight to 10 family members," Bakke said. "It's a dairy farm that wants to add the next generation."

But bringing that next generation on board also likely means modernizing, and that means going to a larger-scale farm.

Bakke said in Minnesota, only 21 of the 87 counties have animal unit caps.

An animal unit is based on the weight of the animal, with a weight of 1,000 pounds being 1 AU. For example, a dairy farm with cows weighing more than 1,000 pounds apiece could now have 2,857 animals in its feedlot. For swine between 55 and 300 pounds, for example, a feedlot could now 13,333 finishing pigs.

Adkins added that the animal unit cap of 2,000 had been in place since 1997 in Fillmore County.

"There's been a conversation (about the cap) for the last couple of years," Adkins said.

Brian Todd is the news editor at the Post Bulletin. When not at work, he spends time with his family, roots for the Houston Astros and watches his miniature dachshund sleep, which is why that dog is more bratwurst than hotdog. Readers can reach Brian at 507-285-7715 or
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