SUNNYSIDE, Wash. — A large Sunnyside dairy has sold and another apparently sold thousands of dairy cows indicative of tough times for Lower Yakima Valley dairies.
DeRuyter Bros. Dairy planned to sell 3,100 head of Holstein in a May 31 auction, according to Toppenish Livestock Commission. But in an email to dozens of potential buyers late May 25, the commission apologized for canceling the auction, saying the whole farm, equipment and cows had been sold.
Genny DeRuyter, owner of the dairy with her husband Jake, said the auction of 3,100 head was planned to reduce their herd by half but that a deal was reached to sell the 1,000-acre dairy to an out-of-state dairy. She said she could not reveal the buyer or price.
“We feel fortunate the sale of the entire herd will keep the strong genetics and quality of our Holstein cows intact and that a full labor force will continue to operate the farm,” DeRuyter said.
Selling half the herd would have meant laying off some the dairy’s 80 workers but their full employment means a continuing contribution to the local economy, she said.
Health concerns and nearing retirement contributed to their decision but they will continue their partnerships in orchards and vineyards, she said.
A lawsuit filed against their dairy in December “is a challenge but not really the reason” for selling, DeRuyter said.
“It’s a difficult environment for all dairies in the state right now. You have to be on top of your game all the time,” she said.
The lawsuit brought by two workers and Columbia Legal Services alleges a lack of overtime pay and a failure to provide meal and rest breaks and pay workers for that time.
U.S. law excludes farmworkers from the right to overtime pay and rights to unionize. The lawsuit challenges those exemptions as a class action on behalf of all agricultural workers in the state.
Dick Bengen, owner of Ruby Ridge Dairy north of Pasco, said the DeRuyters had talked about downsizing and that one of the Bosma dairies in Sunnyside, recently sold about 4,000 dairy cows.
“We sold some cows and I can’t give you any more information than that,” was all Brian Bosma said when asked by Capital Press if he sold 4,000 head.
“The valley has had its problems because of too many cows,” said Bengen who is still involved in lawsuits with United Farm Workers over the union’s attempt to unionize his dairy in 2009.
There once were 70 dairies in the lower Yakima Valley but now there are fewer because of economics, lawsuits and government regulations, said the owner of a large Sunnyside dairy who asked for anonymity.
“You can’t afford to run a 500-cow dairy so its get bigger or get out.
“Lawsuits are driving everyone out of business. Liberals don’t like corporations but corporations will take over all of agriculture because they will be the only ones with deep enough pockets left to stay in it,” he said.
The EPA’s concentrated animal feeding operation permit will drive more dairies out of business, he said.
A 2015 settlement agreement between several Lower Yakima Valley dairies and the EPA regarding nitrates and groundwater is costing those dairies millions of dollars every year in double-lined water storage lagoons, monitoring wells, consultants, attorneys and paperwork, said Jay Gordon, policy director of the Washington State Dairy Federation.
Those things and threats of lawsuits against dairies, not only in the Lower Yakima Valley but Whatcom County, is “taking all the fun out” of operating dairies, Gordon said.