Animal Welfare Blog FARMING food policy

Is Oregon Paving the Way for More Mega-Dairies?

The vote by Oregon state senators seemed like a slam dunk.

For months in 2018, tales of an environmental catastrophe at the state’s second-largest mega-dairy had been all over the news. Manure lagoons overflowed. Cows stood knee-deep in muck. The dairy had racked up a growing stack of violations and a courtroom case towards an owner with drug and gambling issues.

A cow standing in manure at Lost Valley. (Photograph by the Oregon Division of Agriculture)

While causing public outrage, the operation in question, japanese Oregon’s Misplaced Valley Farm, filed for bankruptcy last spring. Negotiations over the cleanup course of have been fraught.

Then, last summer time, the chair of the state Senate Committee on Setting and Natural Assets convened a workgroup that brought together small household farm advocates, regulators, and business teams, in an effort to provide you with a invoice to stop another mega-dairy debacle.

The resulting Senate Bill 876 was designed to require a two-step permitting process to make sure that any new dairy with 2,500 or extra cows had the manure-handling infrastructure and water rights in place before with the ability to convey the animals on website to start out milking.

“It was clear to us that we need to have a process where there’s certification that everything’s in place before the animals are brought on site because [with Lost Valley] we were dealing with a fait accompli,” stated Senator Michael Dembrow, a Democrat and chair of the committee. “It seemed like a common-sense approach.”

The Vandenbrink dairy, with roughly 3,500 dairy cows, in Ione, Oregon. (Photo CC-licensed by Friends of Family Farmers)

The Vandenbrink dairy, with roughly three,500 dairy cows, in Ione, Oregon. (Photograph CC-licensed by Associates of Family Farmers)

Dembrow referred to as for a vote on the proposal in April. He expected the invoice to cross the Democratic-controlled committee. However a Democrat on the committee, Senator Arnie Roblan, who represents a piece of the Oregon coast that has more cows than individuals, killed it by voting no.

“I don’t necessarily believe that you have to keep regulating the regulators,” Roblan informed Civil Eats, referring to the Oregon Division of Agriculture. “If they were to come and say we really need to have something to fix, then I would be much more inclined to say, ‘Let’s go do it.’”

Oregon has a robust tradition of small household farming, and dairies with more than 2,500 cows solely account for a fraction of the operations. Moreover, Democrats at present hold a three-fifths supermajority in the legislature. So, the failure of Senate Bill 876 highlights the uphill battle that small farm advocates face in making an attempt to garner help for tighter regulation of mega-dairies in the state. Business groups opposed the invoice, regulators stayed neutral, and lots of farmers—apprehensive that any new regulation would harm their business at a time of persistently low milk prices—testified towards it.

Opponents of the bill disregarded Lost Valley, saying it was a one-off state of affairs with an proprietor with problems who was in over his head.

“We dodged a bullet,” Dembrow stated. “It just seems like irresponsible lawmaking to not plan for this kind of thing happening again.”

He blamed the lead commerce group, the Oregon Dairy Farmers Affiliation, for killing the invoice. “I’m really disappointed in them” Dembrow stated. “They felt they had the political heft to have us not do anything, and at the end of the day they were right.”

Misplaced Valley Debacle

Lost Valley Farm opened in 2017 with a permit for 30,000 cows. It started operations with 15,000 cows on-site and a contract to sell milk to the Tillamook County Creamery Affiliation. The group, which manufactures and sells dairy merchandise underneath the Tillamook model identify, has a plant close by.

But there was an issue. The proprietor, Greg te Velde, was not ready to cope with mountains of manure, and he hadn’t secured water rights. The operation wanted about one million gallons of water a day, and it was situated in a groundwater management area already polluted with excessive levels of nitrates and designated as important because of dwindling provides.

Emails obtained in a public data request by Buddies of Family Farmers, an advocacy group based mostly in Salem, point out that Oregon Division of Agriculture officers have been wanting to approve the operation despite the outstanding issues at the farm. A memo cited by the Salem Statesman Journal exhibits that regulators have been targeted on te Velde’s promise of 150 jobs in rural Morrow County—not on the setting.

“The proposed dairy is in the best economic interests of the region,” the Oregon Department of Agriculture, Division of Environmental High quality, Water Assets Department, and governor’s workplace wrote in a joint memo before saying they have been giving the dairy the go-ahead in March 2017.

“[Te Velde] never even finished building his manure lagoon infrastructure,” stated Ivan Maluski, coverage director for Pals of Household Farmers. “He did not put in all the soil-testing monitors or the irrigation equipment that he was supposed to. That’s why in literally weeks he was breaking his permit because he did not have enough space to put his manure.”

Te Velde racked up more than 200 violations and about $200,000 in fines in a single yr. The state took him to courtroom to close him down. It value $200,000 to track and battle issues at Misplaced Valley and it took regulators a yr to shut it down.

An Attempt at Change

Te Velde filed for bankruptcy in April 2018, and a trustee took over the farm. In February 2019, it was bought to Easterday Farms of Pasco, Washington. Proprietor Cody Easterday didn’t respond to a number of requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Agriculture informed Civil Eats that its screens didn’t detect contamination in the groundwater on the property. Even so, she noted that while all of the cows are off the farm, it’s still not cleaned up: The farm contained 30 million gallons of manure when it modified arms, with half of the liquid manure needing to be utilized to fields together with strong manure, and lots of of the barns want cleaning.

The brand new house owners want to complete the cleanup to obtain a brand new allow, which would go up for public comment.

Family farm and sustainable food advocates fear a few new mega-dairy shifting in—there or elsewhere. In addition to Associates of Household Farmers, Meals & Water Watch and the Middle for Meals Security supported two different payments that have been additionally thought-about by Dembrow’s committee, Senate payments 103 and 104. These bills would have positioned a moratorium on licensing new mega-dairies, designating operations with at the very least 2,500 cows as “industrial” and requiring them to adhere to air and water air pollution laws.

“We saw the huge loopholes in our regulatory system here in Oregon and our laws that allowed Lost Valley to happen,” stated Amy van Saun, senior lawyer for the Middle for Meals Security. “We decided as a coalition that a moratorium is what we need to take a look at [when asking] what protections do we need to put in place before we continue to let this industry run rampant.”

Dembrow stated those two payments failed to realize traction, with the Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Dairy Association staunchly against both. However he had expected the commerce groups to help the tamer proposal, Senate Invoice 876.

Initially, they did help the bill but then changed their position, fearing the influence of extra laws. Every dairy farm in Oregon that has animals confined for greater than 4 months out of the yr on prepared surfaces, no matter measurement, is subject to the state’s rules for confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

This dairy lagoon at Threemile Canyon Farms outside of Boardman, Oregon is approximately 20 acres in size. (Photo CC-licensed by Friends of Family Farmers)

This dairy lagoon at Threemile Canyon Farms outdoors of Boardman, Oregon is roughly 20 acres in measurement. (Photograph CC-licensed by Buddies of Household Farmers)

Tami Kerr, government director of the Oregon Dairy Affiliation, stated Oregon farms are already closely regulated. “All of those regulations come with a cost, and the cost of compliance is expensive and time consuming… Milk prices right now are very low. Our farmers are struggling to stay in business.”

As in the remainder of the nation, Oregon dairy farms have confronted consolidation in current many years, with the number of operations shrinking as farms themselves have grown. In the early 1990s, Oregon had about 500 dairy farms. By 1998, there have been 326, Kerr stated. Immediately, they quantity about 206, in line with Oregon Division of Agriculture statistics.

Nonetheless, mega-dairies are rare. There are 12 operations in Oregon licensed for greater than 2,500 cows however two haven’t any animals on-site and one only has heifers that aren’t milked, Kerr stated. Department of Agriculture statistics present that the median dairy farm measurement is 270 cows.

Many of those farms are in disaster, stated Maluski of Associates of Family Farmers. “The crisis is that family farms are going out of business. The trend has been going on a long time but it’s really accelerated over the last several years.”

Costs are so low right now that farmers are actually dropping money on their milk, and smaller farms are being supplanted by giant operations that always have the financing to weather low milk prices, Maluski stated. “Industrial dairies are the last ones standing when other farms go out of business,” he added.

An Uncertain Future

The most important dairy farm in the nation can also be situated in Japanese Oregon. Threemile Canyon Farms, with a permit for virtually 100,000 cows, has almost 30,000 on-site. The power, which sells milk to Tillamook, has had few noncompliance citations: solely three since 2007, in accordance with Oregon Department of Agriculture data obtained by Civil Eats.

However, environmentalists and small farm advocates don’t need to see another Threemile Canyon in Oregon. Congressman Earl Blumenauer, who represents an space of the state that features most of Portland, says CAFOs pose an environmental menace.

“There is definitely an air quality issue and a water issue,” Blumenauer stated. “It’s a serious problem in terms of the health and well-being of the community.”

The bigger the measurement of the operation, the more durable to manage, he stated—and the more clout the firm tends to wield. “Ironically, they create more problems and yet (their size) magnifies their political influence,” Blumenauer added.

Giant dairy operations contribute to air pollution, emitting ammonia, methane, and different harmful compounds. And but in Oregon, CAFOs emissions are neither monitored nor limited, despite a years-long push by environmentalists and small farm advocates for an air high quality program.

The business opposes controls, and it is aware of methods to wield its clout. The farming sector in Oregon is an enormous marketing campaign contributor, rating sixth nationwide for political donations, in accordance with a current report by the Portland Oregonian/OregonLive. In the dairy business, Threemile Canyon Farms and the Tillamook County Creamery Affiliation are both massive contributors, donating almost $430,000 to candidates and political motion committees between 2007 and 2018.

The defeat of Senate Bill 876 is an effective example of the means the dairy business wields its energy, family farm advocates say. It was relatively tame, and yet the business backed away. “It would have made some modest changes,” stated van Saun of the Middle for Food Safety. “But it was really kind of a Band-Aid. And even that was defeated.”

She says the state is ripe for extra giant operations. “Oregon’s lack of regulations on dairy emissions, lax groundwater controls, and failure of lawmakers to prevent another Lost Valley make the state a magnet for more mega-dairies,” she stated.

Even so, she’s not discouraged. Lawmakers get voted out, van Saun stated, and public opinion is on the aspect of sustainable agriculture. The hope, she added, is to get a moratorium by government action by the governor. “It’s just a matter of getting the public’s attention and doing more grassroots support,” she stated.

Just about everyone agrees that if Easterday Farms applies for a allow to arrange a brand new mega-dairy in the Lost Valley website, the public can pay attention.

Senator Dembrow says the new operation would face “a lot of scrutiny.” But he worries what is going to occur a couple of years down the line, when public consideration wanes. “You can imagine something like [Lost Valley] happening again,” he stated.

Prime photograph: Cattle in drylot at Threemile Canyon Farms in Oregon. Photograph CC-licensed by Pals of Family Farmers.