The County’s primary agricultural output is in animal agriculture, which has nuisance risk and risks associated with natural resources. Maintaining a balance between non-agricultural rural developments and protecting the ability of animal agriculture producer’s to continue and expand their operations is an on-going dilemma. A number of incidents have occurred where animal agricultural operations have been unable to expand, or have been forced to absorb additional costs due to encroaching non-agricultural rural land uses (primarily housing). Difficulties in meeting natural resource protection standards have also limited producers’ ability to expand. These standards may be viewed as barriers, but provide immense value in protecting our natural resources and water bodies.
The County continues to see a growing number of nuisance-related conflicts, as rural development pushes into areas with animal agriculture operations. Also, natural resource regulations are sometimes structured in a way that limits the expansion of animal agriculture operations. These barriers can limit a farmer’s economic opportunities and investments from the farm. One particular barrier has been associated with the setbacks required between a residential dwelling and the construction and/or modification of a feedlot structure on a separate parcel.
Stearns County’s ordinance requires a residential dwelling be located at a minimum of 700 feet from an animal feedlot (see Ordinance #439 Section 6.7.5). Minnesota Rules (Chapter 7020) do not require specific setbacks from residential dwellings. However, many local land-use ordinances have incorporated dwelling to feedlot setbacks and vice versa (600 to 2,000+ feet) from residential dwellings to reduce land use conflicts (e.g., noise, odor, and dust). Minnesota Statute 394.25 does require reciprocal setbacks for dwellings and feedlots in an agricultural zoning district.
Reducing or eliminating the setback requirements is a growing discussion in an effort to eliminate barriers that prevent feedlot owners from reactivating or expanding their operation; however, this would also eliminate barriers for residential dwelling construction closer to feedlot operations.