SALEM, Ohio – It’s up to the Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission to decide the fate of Buckeye Egg Farm.
The commission may agree with Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Dailey, who ordered closure of the barns in early July. Or the board could overturn Dailey’s decision and let the farm stay open, keeping millions of hens laying.
The commission is reviewing oral arguments heard Aug. 27, according to commission office assistant Linda Adams.
The three-person appeals board hasn’t set a timeline for its decision.
Worst-case scenario. But in the meantime, perhaps the concern played largest – that of neighbors, farm managers and animal lovers everywhere – is the fate of the farm’s 9 million birds if the farm is shut down.
The farm previously had 15 million birds in production but, as part of voluntary industry programs, has increased cage space per bird and reduced the number of overall layers.
Through involvement with the programs, Buckeye Egg Farm must meet animal welfare guidelines, described by Bill Leininger, Buckeye’s director of operations, as “standards for farmers and more liberal-minded activists to coexist.”
Turned around. Through those programs and new farm management, Leininger hopes neighbors of Buckeye Egg Farm’s barns in four counties have noticed a real turnaround from the insect infestations and manure spills that originally led Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Dailey to revoke the farm’s permits to operate earlier this summer.
According to Leininger, Buckeye is trying to win over its neighbors and critics and to build a reputation of environmental compliance.
One of the farm’s biggest outpourings is its offer to pay for insect extermination at the homes of neighbors even if the farm can’t be pinpointed as the source of the problem. The farm has also stepped up its wastewater management plan.
“We’re really trying to be a good neighbor and are absorbing a lot of costs. This year alone we’ve spent $450,000 moving wastewater,” Leininger said.
Efforts seem to be working. Complaints received at the farm are down overall, and the farm hasn’t logged any insect or rodent outbreaks, manure or wastewater spills or contempt charges in the past year, he said.
Those changes, Leininger said, are the farm’s last ditch effort to preserve the jobs of 490 employees and 9 million hens.
At the line. But when it comes right down to the final decision, the farm must face the possibility it might be shut down.
That move would include aggressive depopulation of the farm’s 126 barns in Licking, Hardin, Wyandot and Marion counties.
Closing barns includes removing all birds, cleaning and removing feed and shutting off all water service.
Leininger said the farm’s operators would have a lot of difficulty meeting the depopulation schedule set by the state.
In his July decision, Ohio Agriculture Director Fred Dailey ordered the farm to begin depopulating two barns a week in early August. The order said all barn closings should be complete by June 1, 2004.
“We would like not to have to depopulate. If we have to, we would like to allow [hens] the opportunity to live to the end of their existence,” Leininger said.
The farm typically culls hens at 80 to 85 weeks of age.
To deal with what may come of Buckeye Egg, farm operators have chosen rendering as their preferred method of disposal.
“Shipping to landfills is not a very good way to handle this amount of animal wastes and labor-wise would be very difficult,” Leininger said.
Leininger also said the farm would absolutely not consider bulldozing or burning barns as a method of disposal.
“That is definitely not something we want to do,” he stated.
Still going. Once made, Buckeye Egg Farm can accept or appeal the Environmental Review Appeals Commission’s decision to county courts of appeals or the Ohio Supreme Court, Linda Adams said.
(Reporter Andrea Myers welcomes reader feedback by phone at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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