From a column by Gregg Hoffman in WisBusiness:

If you’re looking at doing business in parts of southwest Wisconsin, you’d better make it as green as possible.

Environmentalists, organic farmers, citizens groups and an increasing number of elected officials have made it clear that the environment needs to be part of any business equation.

That was clear in recent protests over a coal ash dump site in Vernon County, which eventually led to Dairyland Power scrapping plans to establish the landfill. It became clear again in similar opposition to a coal blend power plant in Cassville. The PSC rejected plans for that plant.

It was clear over a year ago when hundreds protested establishment of a large pig farm, which would house more than 1,000 animals as a CAFO (Confined Animal Feeding Operation). Plans for that farm did move forward.

Two more examples came to the forefront in recent weeks. Petry Trust of Rockford, Ill., is doing a preliminary investigation into possibly locating a 1,000-plus animal unit dairy in Vernon County.

Just a day or so after that story broke, Organic Valley, a successful organic food cooperative, announced it is talking to Western Technical College and Gundersen Lutheran about erecting two wind turbines in 2009 at its Cashton distribution center.

That announcement was made at a press conference in La Crosse on the Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign. It was launched by Wisconsin Farmers Union, Clean Wisconsin, the Michael Fields Agricultural Institute and RENEW Wisconsin.

The owner of Petry Trust, Jeff Petry, owns “significant” amounts of agricultural real estate in Wisconsin and Illinois and has farmed himself in the past. Petry leases most his agricultural real estate and owns one other dairy facility in the Darlington area.

Bourgault said Petry owns the facility in Darlington, but leases it to a California company. The Darlington facility is permitted through the DNR for up to 2,500 animal units or about 1,800 dairy cows, but there are currently not that many animals on the property.

The testing for the possible Vernon County dairy operation will begin at one of the possible sites along West Smith Road, where Petry owns about 300 contiguous acres. A spokesman for Petry said the site would be selected with a number of factors in mind and with all state and local regulations taken into consideration.

Opposition to so-called “factory farms” has been strong in the past. Concerns are for the amount of manure produced by such farms, storage of the waste in winter and possible runoff. Parts of the Driftless Area are susceptible to pollution from runoff because of the karst geology in the area.

The Petry spokesman said the group is well aware of the concerns and plans on “taking additional measures for our own piece of mind.” He said the dairy operation would fit into Vernon County’s “agricultural tradition.”

Organic Valley’s proposal is the latest in that organization’s emphasis on the environment and sustainability. The co-op’s headquarters in La Farge and distribution center near Cashton are both “green-built” buildings. Other measures are regularly taken to promote sustainable agriculture by the co-op.

BEST Energies Inc., which has a biodiesel plant in Cashton, and the village of Cashton also might become partners with Organic Valley, Western and Gundersen Lutheran in the wind turbine project.

The Homegrown Renewable Energy Campaign promotes four of the initiatives recommended this year by Gov. Jim Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force: create a Biomass Energy Crop Reserve Program to pay land owners to plant bioenergy crops such as switchgrass that can be used for fuel, create a Renewable Fuels for Schools and Communities Program to help fund sources for biomass heating systems in schools and government buildings, develop a program to set utility payment rates to fairly compensate small renewable energy producers and set a low carbon fuel standard.

Southwest Wisconsin rapidly is developing into a hotbed for those, and other green business practices. If the Petry dairy operation makes sure it takes all the precautions to avoid problems with runoff and other environmental issues, it will be welcomed into the area. If not, it will likely face stiff opposition.