SALEM — The general manager of Oregon’s largest dairy has been reappointed to the state Board of Agriculture, drawing the ire of environmental groups over concerns about pollution and sustainability.
Gov. Kate Brown appointed Marty Myers, of Threemile Canyon Farms, to serve a second term on the 10-member board, which makes policy recommendations for the state Department of Agriculture.
Threemile Canyon Farms is a 93,000-acre operation about 15 miles west of Boardman. It includes three dairies with a combined 33,000 milking cows, producing 1.4 million pounds of milk each day sold to Tillamook Cheese at the Port of Morrow.
Total livestock, including calves and heifers, is 68,840 animals. The farm also grows 39,500 acres of irrigated crops, and has 23,000 acres set aside for wildlife conservation.
A coalition of advocacy groups wrote a letter to Brown on Sept. 12, condemning Myers’ reappointment and criticizing the process as rushed and lacking transparency.
“Instead of welcoming participation from legitimate stakeholders, your office and your agency deliberately thwarted it,” the groups wrote in the letter.
The coalition includes Columbia Riverkeeper, Friends of Family Farmers, Humane Voters Oregon, Factory Farming Awareness Coalition, Farm Forward, Food & Water Watch, Center for Food Safety, Humane Society of the United States, Center for Biological Diversity and Animal Legal Defense Fund.
State law requires seven members of the Board of Agriculture to be farmers and ranchers. Two members must represent consumers, and the 10th member is the chair of the Soil and Water Conservation Commission. Members serve four-year terms.
Several groups expressed similar disappointment when Myers was first appointed to the board in 2015. They argued Threemile Canyon Farms is a significant source of pollution, emitting up to 5.6 million pounds of ammonia gas from manure annually.
Meanwhile, smaller dairy farms continue to struggle, according to the coalition, which said that between 2002 and 2007, the state lost nearly half of its dairy farms.
Shari Sirkin, executive director of Friends of Family Farmers, said that by reappointing Myers to the Board of Agriculture, Brown demonstrated “her continued allegiance to industrialized dairy in Oregon.”
“It would have been far better to appoint a real family farmer to this board, but once again, Governor Brown chose Oregon’s mega-dairies over its small, independent farms,” Sirkin said.
The groups also cited Lost Valley Farm, a failed 30,000-cow dairy in Morrow County, as reason to reform Oregon’s confined animal feeding operations. Lost Valley racked up more than 200 wastewater permit violations almost immediately after opening in 2017 and declared bankruptcy earlier this year.
Easterday Farms, of Pasco, Wash., is now working to reopen the facility.
“Allowing Myers, a mega-dairy operator, to continue to influence the Department of Agriculture as it considers permitting yet another mega-dairy at the Lost Valley site does not bode well for Eastern Oregon or our environment,” said Tarah Heinzen, senior attorney for Food & Water Watch.
Myers defended his record on the board, saying he will continue to represent the interests of farms of all sizes. During this year’s legislative session, Myers supported provisions in House Bill 2020 — the cap and trade proposal — that would have allowed small farms to collectively market their carbon assets, making them competitive with larger operations.
In a 2011 study of air quality in the Columbia River Gorge, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality praised Threemile Canyon Farms for “continuously addressing its air emissions by applying new technologies and adaptively managing its dairies with best management practices.”
In particular, DEQ said the farm recycles cow manure as a fertilizer for growing crops and built a methane digester in 2009 to capture emissions, generating 4.8 megawatts of electricity. Regulators approved a permit allowing Threemile Canyon Farms to expand the digester this year, and convert methane into “pipeline quality” natural gas. Myers said he believes the objections raised by environmental groups are politically motivated, rather than based in science.
“We have a continuous improvement operation and we’re always looking for new technologies for efficiency in agriculture and being good with the environment and our animals,” Myers said.
A spokesman for Brown did not speak directly about Myers’ reappointment, but said the governor seeks a wide diversity of backgrounds and experiences in her board appointments. If that member is active and thoughtfully engaged in policy, he said Brown generally will appoint them to another term.
Alexis Taylor, director of the state Department of Agriculture, said the Board of Agriculture should reflect diversity in commodities, size, scale and production systems.
“Oregon is not a one-size-fits-all,” Taylor said in a statement. “Board members volunteer countless hours in this advisory role and I want to thank them for their dedication and unique contributions.”
Taylor said ODA is committed to transparency, and welcomes further discussion about how the state can ensure diverse voices are represented at the table.