SALEM, Ohio – The Ohio Farmers Union wants a time out.
Today they’re calling for state legislators, educators and ag leaders to stop promoting and recruiting confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) until they’ve got sound science to prove the farms aren’t a safety threat for communities and the environment.
And until then, the Farmers Union wants a moratorium on bringing more large farms to Ohio.
Changing worlds. We’re all aware of dramatic changes in structure and operations for the livestock industry, says Joe Logan, president of the Farmers Union.
Farms are getting bigger, some with more cows and too little land to support them, often for financial reasons, Logan said.
“It’s the responsibility of the leadership – agency, educational and legislature – to make sure the changes make sense. We’re just not sure [the changes] are being applied without derogatory consequences,” he said.
By the rules. “We’re not suggesting sinister motives from regulators or operators. Most of these are good folks who live by the rules,” Logan said.
Still, the Farmers Union wants the state to revisit its CAFO rules and see if the permitting process could be tweaked further to make more people happy.
Currently, the state’s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program exceeds federal National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Systems criteria, according to Deb Abbott, program spokesperson with the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
CAFOs must have a permit to operate, which includes manure and mortality management plans, insect and rodent control measures and an emergency response plan. The farms must also keep operating records to document everything done on the farm, such as monitoring manure lagoons.
“It becomes very apparent if they are monitoring it or just making it up,” Abbott said.
Permits. New CAFO constructions or expansions from the ground up must also file for a permit to install, which includes siting criteria, manure storage construction standards and geological explorations.
Abbott said a majority of the state’s 141 permitted farms are family farms that expanded to support more family members. Only 21 permits are owned by corporations; 12 of those are for Ohio Fresh Eggs, the former Buckeye Egg, and five are for Daylay Egg Farm.
The greatest concentrations of CAFOs in the Buckeye State are in Darke and Mercer counties along the Indiana-Ohio state line. Many are poultry farms, Abbott said.
She declined to comment about a potential moratorium.
Cracking down. Joe Logan pointed out several other states that have cracked down on large farms: Iowa has imposed more rigorous air and water quality testing in its permitting plan, and North Carolina already has a moratorium.
The Michigan State Medical Society has requested a halt to CAFOs in that state, and the American Public Health Association and National Catholic Rural Life Conference have called for a nationwide moratorium, according to Logan.
Rock and a hard place. A Trumbull County dairyman most of his life, Logan said he knows the realities of farming, including one issue at the heart of the arguments against CAFOs: manure volume and disposal.
Ohio, and particularly the Buckeye State’s northwestern quadrant, is in a unique position, Logan said.
A large number of CAFOs are built there on soils that dry out and crack readily, allowing quick penetration of any liquids, including manure.
“Those soils are tiled shallowly. It’s an unfortunate one-two combination, the soil and tile system. There’s a great potential to contaminate the water,” Logan said.
Accountability. Logan said there’s a breakdown in the state’s chain of accountability procedures, too, when it comes to manure disposal from the CAFOs.
Most if not all those operations – those with high head-counts and relatively little acreage –
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