Courtesy Paloma Ayala, with aerial support from LightHawk.
The owner of Lost Valley Farm, a controversial Eastern Oregon dairy that has drawn the ire of environmental groups and run afoul of state regulators, may soon be forced to sell off its entire herd.
Greg te Velde, of Tipton, Calif., began operating the dairy near Boardman, Ore. in 2017, which was permitted for up to 30,000 cows — making it the second-largest dairy in the state, behind neighboring Threemile Canyon Farms.
But according to documents filed in Morrow County Circuit Court, te Velde is in significant financial straits, owing more than $150 million in debt — more than $60 million to Rabobank, a multinational agricultural lender.
Rabobank made three commercial loans and issued three lines of credit for Lost Valley and two other dairies te Velde owns in California. The loans were secured in part by Lost Valley’s dairy herd, other livestock, silage and equipment.
The bank claims te Velde has since defaulted on two of the loans, and foreclosure proceedings are underway in California. Toppenish Livestock Commission, of Toppenish, Wash., has been secured to auction the Lost Valley herd, which includes 10,500 milking and dry cows, along with 4,000 replacement heifers.
John Top, owner of Toppenish Livestock, said they will begin preparing next week for the auction, which is scheduled for April 27. However, according to a motion filed in Morrow County by Rabobank seeking a preliminary injunction, te Velde has not given the auctioneer permission to enter the dairy and take the herd.
Te Velde declined to comment when contacted Wednesday. An attorney for Rabobank also declined comment.
In a declaration filed in state superior court Feb. 15 in Fresno, Calif., Nicola Merrifield-Olivia, senior vice president and manager of commercial special assets for Rabobank, wrote that the bank had attempted to work with te Velde for more than a year to restructure his debts. Yet despite these efforts, te Velde failed to put together a realistic plan.
“Two of the three loans extended to te Velde by Rabobank have matured, and te Velde’s precarious financial condition is beginning to endanger the well-being of the three herds,” Merrifield-Olivia wrote.
Lost Valley is located on a portion of the former Boardman Tree Farm. It has been a lightning rod for controversy since before it was permitted as a confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO.
More than 4,200 public comments opposed the operation, urging the Oregon Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality to deny a key wastewater permit for roughly 187 million gallons of liquid manure.
Opponents railed against the potential for air and water contamination, though ODA and DEQ did award the permit based on what the agencies described as the most protective permit conditions for a CAFO to date.
Within the first year of operation, Lost Valley failed numerous inspections and was cited four times for permit violations. ODA sued to shut down the dairy, though ultimately the sides reached a settlement, with Lost Valley agreeing to limit its wastewater to 65,000 gallons a day and ensuring manure lagoons had enough capacity to handle water from storms. It also agreed to weekly inspections.
According to court documents, te Velde was in discussions to sell the dairy, but those negotiations fell through as of March 15. A motions hearing is scheduled in Morrow County for April 12.