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Agricultural small business resources

Agricultural operations include many types of activities that have a range of environmental regulations to meet. This section provides information on how to comply with some of those environmental regulations and points to resources to help start a farm and comply with environmental requirements, among other things.

General environmental

The following is a summary of state environmental regulations that may apply to an agricultural business in Wisconsin.

Air pollution

There are rules specific to some grain facilities with certain types of equipment, and others that might apply broadly to any grain handling operations or other agricultural operations as well. Review the Grain Facility fact sheet (AM-557) to start. Then check the requirements below for more information on fugitive dust.

Odor is an air pollution issue that can impact a number of farming related activities. The DNR SBEAP provides a summary of state requirements for odor control in the fact sheet Controlling Odors (SB-110). Minimizing odors is best achieved through application of conservation best management practices. U.S. EPA and the USDA NRCS collaborated to develop the reference guide Agricultural Air Quality Conservation Measures to help poultry and livestock producers apply best management practices.

Some farms with manure storage issues may choose to install an anaerobic digester to reduce the volume of waste and to produce methane gas for an energy source, with an added benefit of reducing odors. Digesters and the engines or boilers used to convert methane gas to energy may require an air pollution permit before starting construction on the equipment. Read more about different types of air permits, and specifically about Combustion Sources and Construction Permits (AM-427).

Fugitive dust

"Fugitive dust" is a term used to describe any particulate matter (PM) emissions released through any means other than a stack or duct of some kind. Any business creating enough dust, smoke, or fumes to be a noticeable source of air pollution must control those emissions. The following are examples of activities that would create fugitive dust:

  • large trucks transporting materials along unpaved roads;
  • unpaved parking lots;
  • piles of materials stored on site, like grain; and
  • dry materials directed to equipment not collected by another device, whether by baghouse, cyclone, wet scrubber, etc.

Any business that creates fugitive dust must do as much as possible to control those emissions and keep them from escaping into the environment. The following are a few suggestions based on the type of activity. Other best management practices recommended by industry experts are provided in the fact sheet Fugitive Dust Management (AM-556).

  • For roads or storage piles, use water or chemicals to prevent dust plumes. Be aware there may be storm water limits on chemicals used to suppress dust. Paving roads will reduce dust. Storage piles can be kept within a three-sided building to minimize emissions.
  • Mechanical collection devices (i.e. cyclones and dry filters) are effective, low cost ways to control PM emissions from processing equipment. Unfortunately, higher collection efficiency in any type of equipment can often mean higher costs. For example, a baghouse can be a very high efficiency control option but is more expensive than the others.

Waste regulations

Unused materials from grain handling operations may be considered hazardous waste if heavy metals like chromium are present. Before disposing of any unused materials from processing, it is important to determine whether the material is hazardous and then properly manage the waste going forward. Start with the Ag specific waste page and learn more about agrichemical waste management.

There are certain ag-related wastes that can be best managed by recycling or reusing them. It is illegal to burn any type of plastic in Wisconsin. Don't Burn Agricultural Plastics (WA-1592) provides a summary of recycling and disposal options. More information can be found on the Managing agricultural plastics page. Other wastes found on a farm could be 'reused' in a fashion by composting them. Learn more on the Farms and composting in Wisconsin page.

Spills and used oil management

In order to prevent oil or fuel spills or clean up after a spill, there are a number of regulations an agriculture business should follow.

Wastewater regulations

Agriculture operations are rarely connected to a municipal sewer system; therefore, most operators will need to review the need for discharge permits that regulate disposal of wastewater to ground or surface water. Review the requirements starting on the DNR Nonpoint source pollution page. Operations defined as CAFOs will have more stringent requirements for treating wastewater, related to manure management.

Agricultural product storage sites may also have to comply with a storm water discharge permit, or certify that they are not a source of exposure to storm water contamination. Review the storm water runoff permits page for more details.

Other requirements

Review other DNR requirements that may apply on the Agribusiness page.

Federal air regulations

Emissions reporting

Under the FARM (Fair Agricultural Reporting Method) Act signed March 23, 2018, air emissions from animal waste at a farm are exempt from reporting under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which then also exempts them from reporting under Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act or EPCRA. Learn more about the requirement to report under CERCLA or EPCRA for farms at CERCLA and EPCRA Reporting Requirements for Air Releases of Hazardous Substances from Animal Waste at Farms.

Grain terminal and grain storage elevators

The EPA established a New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for grain elevators constructed, modified or reconstructed after Aug. 3, 1978, and defined as either:

  • Grain terminal elevator — any grain elevator that has a permanent storage capacity of more than 88,100 m3 (2.5 million U.S. bushels), except those located at animal food manufacturers, pet food manufacturers, cereal manufacturers, breweries and livestock feedlots; or
  • Grain storage elevator — any grain elevator located at any wheat flour mill, wet corn mill, dry corn mill (human consumption), rice mill or soybean oil extraction plant that has a permanent grain storage capacity of 35,200 m3 (1 million bushels).

The limits in the rule apply to the following equipment at those facilities:

  • truck unloading station;
  • truck loading station;
  • barge and ship unloading station;
  • barge and ship loading station;
  • railcar unloading station;
  • railcar loading station;
  • grain dryer; and
  • all grain handling operations.

You can review the specific requirements of the rule in 40 CFR Part 60, subpart DD or NR 440.47, Wis. Adm. Code.

Prepared feeds manufacturing operations

The EPA regulates prepared feeds manufacturing operations that are minor or area sources of federal hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), where the operations add the metal HAPs chromium (Cr) or manganese (Mn) to their product and where at least 50% of the annual production is animal feed. A minor, or area source of federal HAPs is one that has potential emissions of less than 10 tons per year (TPY) of any one federal HAP and less than 25 TPY of all federal HAPs combined. The list of federal HAPs can be found on EPA’s website at The Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 List of Hazardous Air Pollutants. The processes regulated include:

  • Mixing;
  • Storage of the meal or mash;
  • Steam conditioning;
  • Pelleting and pellet cooling; and
  • Crumbling and screening.

For more details on the rule requirements, review these materials:


Digester requirements

Anaerobic digesters can be used by farms to reduce manure volume as well as produce biogas. The biogas can be used in generator engines or boilers to provide electrical power and heat for the farm or the local utility. The EPA provides a wide range of information on Biogas Recovery in the Agriculture Sector.

Use of the biogas in units like an engine or boiler can trigger different environmental requirements, such as the need to get an air permit before installation. Read more about different types of air permits, and specifically about Combustion Sources and Construction Permits (AM-427).

CAFO's requiring a Wisconsin Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (WPDES) permit may use a digester as a manure treatment system before discharging their waste stream to surface or ground water. Be sure to review the Wastewater section under the General environmental tab on this page for links to WPDES information.

Financial and other resources

Getting started

The United States Department of Agriculture has resources for those interested in starting a farm. Get started at New Farmers. Existing farms can stay up-to-date on news from the USDA Farm Service Agency by subscribing to newsletters, notifications and reminders through their GovDelivery service. Subscribe online at Email Updates.

In addition, the Natural Resource Conservation Service at the USDA has resources for farmers that want to make improvements to the land. Resources may include technical assistance in planning, filing applications, and funding. Learn more at Get Started with NRCS.

Compliance resources

Confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) have a number of regulations to comply with throughout the year. One way to keep track of inspections and monitoring needed is to use the DNR/UW Extension Compliance Calendar.


The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection provides economic development and other resources to farmers through their Farm Center. Services include financial experts, assistance to organics producers, minority farmer resources, help with rural power issues, links to other assistance providers and mediation of disputes, among other services. They work with new, changing and existing farms.

USDA Environmental Quality Incentive Programs for Wisconsin Landowners (EQIP) is a voluntary program that promotes agriculture production, forest management and environmental quality. The program offers financial and technical assistance to farmers and land owners. Technical assistance is provided by NRCS staff, who can help owners develop a conservation plan for practices eligible under the program. For more information on the program, contact your local NRCS Service Center in the county in which the land is located. Visit Find Wisconsin NRCS Service Centers and Field Staff for more information.

General USDA farm loan information can be found on the Farm Loans page. For more information, contact the Wisconsin USDA office.

Additional resources