Dutch dairies controversial in Ohio – Pt. 2

In Ohio, Dutch-owned dairies are responsible for as much as 10-percent of the milk produced in the state. Industry leaders say these large dairies are saving a waning industry. But opponents say they’re hurting communities, polluting air and water, and bringing down property values. In the second of a 2-part series, WOSU’s Tamara Keith reports on the controversy surrounding Dutch dairies.

Jane Phillips drives her green Chevy truck down the rutted country roads near her Wood County home. She’s lived in this area all her life. Her grandfather used to have a small dairy farm here, no more than 20 or 30 cows. She’s about 2 miles away from home when she passes a field where a Dutch family plans to build a dairy.

Phillips is the president of the Wood County Citizens Opposed to Factory Farms. Her group filed an appeal, hoping to overturn the dairy’s permit to build and operate.

She’s worried that this dairy and others rumored to be on the way, will hurt the local environment. She’s afraid manure could contaminate her well. Phillips and the others in her group base their concerns on research, articles they’ve read about dairies in other states, and on personal experience.

The Manders dairy in Wood County was recently cited by the US Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Water Act, by allowing manure and other waste to get into a ditch. The Manders dairy has applied to the Ohio Department of Agriculture for a permit to expand its operation to milk 1,600 cows. Requests from dairies with similar environmental violations have been approved in the past. In fact, the state has not denied a single dairy permit application. One farm in Putnam County was given permission to triple the size of its herd despite 4 violation notices from state regulators and numerous complaints.

“We have some of the most stringent rules of any states in the united states,” said Fred Dailey, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture. He signs off on all the dairy permit applications and says it’s not necessarily a problem that the department has never denied an application. He says Ohio has 214 pages of rules governing large livestock operations.

John Sprote is an attorney who represents the Wood County Citizens group. He says the state’s rules look good on paper, but they aren’t doing a good job of preventing spills and other accidents.

The Ohio Farmers’ Union has called for a moratorium on development of large livestock operations in the state. The group says more studies are needed about the impact of these facilities on rivers, ground water, air quality and neighboring communities. But, the agriculture secretary is adamant. He says, “there’s no reason to have a moratorium in Ohio.”

Attorney John Sprote says the citizens he represents want dairies to be required to take environmental precautions like lining manure lagoons to prevent leaks, and covering them to cut odors and air pollution.

Dairy operators seem puzzled by all the anger aimed in their direction. Cecilia Conway is a partner in Vreba Hoff Dairy Development, an Ohio company that helps Dutch farmers build dairies in the Midwest. Conway says larger more concentrated livestock operations are the future of the industry. And she says the opposition just doesn’t understand.