Large dairies would be classified as industrial facilities and subject to new restrictions under two bills to be considered by Oregon lawmakers next year.
At a Dec. 12 work session, the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources voted 4-2 to introduce the two bills during next year’s legislative session along with a bevy of other “legislative concepts.”
Both pieces of legislation would apply to dairies with more than 2,500 cows, or 700 cows if they don’t have access to pasture.
If they were reclassified as industrial facilities, such dairies would be stripped of protections under Oregon’s “right to farm” law, which prohibits local governments from imposing restrictions on farms. The statute also bans lawsuits alleging nuisance or trespass against farms.
The two bills were prompted by the regulatory problems at Lost Valley Farm, a large dairy in Boardman that’s been cited for a multitude of wastewater violations since it began operating last year, said Ivan Maluski, policy director for Friends of Family Farmers, a nonprofit that supports strong dairy regulations.
“The state’s oversight of these over-sized facilities is flawed and needs to be fixed,” he said. “At a minimum, the state should take a time-out on permitting the very large facilities until a number of changes to the CAFO program are made.”
Tami Kerr, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Farmers Association, called the proposed changes “ridiculous” and said dairy farmers were unfairly being targeted after one operator’s poor management gave the industry a “black eye.”
“There is absolutely no need for either of these bills,” she said. “Size isn’t the problem, it’s management.”
Under one of the proposals, Legislative Concept 2718, Oregon regulators wouldn’t be allowed to issue permits to build or expand “industrial dairies” unless they comply with local restrictions, including those on emitting methane into the air or nitrates into water.
The other proposal, Legislative Concept 2706, would completely prohibit the construction of “industrial dairies” until lawmakers lifted the ban when a new permitting system is established.
Local governments would also be allowed to regulate such facilities under this proposal, but it contains numerous other provisions, such as disallowing permits for “industrial dairies” until they’ve obtained water rights.
The state’s Department of Environmental Quality would also have to enact new rules on dairy air emissions under the proposal and to annually report to the Legislature on its regulatory progress, while the Oregon Department of Agriculture would have to study the economic effects of “industrial dairies” on smaller farms.
A task force on dairy animal welfare would be convened under this proposal and recommend minimum standards to lawmakers.
Maluski said the wastewater problems at Lost Valley Farm directly hurt animal welfare as the manure management system malfunctioned, forcing the cows to stand in their own waste.
“A lot of people were stunned to see the conditions Lost Valley was keeping its cows in,” he said.
Kerr said that 98 percent of the milk in the U.S. is produced under the Farmers Assuring Responsible Management program, which sets standards for animal care, environmental stewardship and antibiotic stewardship and enforces them with inspections and audits.
“Our farms are not industrial. Our farms are multi-generational family businesses,” she said. “They take it very seriously. They’re proud of the work they’re doing.”