SALEM, Ohio – Receptionists are answering the phones with greetings from Ohio Fresh Eggs, marking new ownership and a new beginning for the dreaded Buckeye Egg Farm.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture issued final permits to operate Feb. 2 to Ohio Fresh Eggs for the farms at Mount Victory, Goshen and Marseilles.
The company got clearance to take over the nine Croton sites in late December.
Ownership. Ohio Fresh Eggs is owned and operated by Don Hershey of Ohio Ag Investors and Orland Bethel of Hillandale Farms.
Nowhere in the new ownership is the notorious Anton Pohlmann mentioned or thought of, according to Hershey.
“When we take over, [Pohlmann] has his hand in nothing. He will have absolutely nothing to do with this. Not two cents of his money will be in anything,” Hershey declared.
“He is 100 percent gone, never to be seen around here ever again.”
A talking head. Hershey, who said he wants the new farm to be productive and an asset to the community, is hopeful homeowners near the farms will give him a chance.
In the new ownership, he’s able to do more than stand in as a figurehead, he said.
Hershey, who had been manager of the farm since May 2003, said Pohlmann wouldn’t let him do his job.
“It didn’t matter where he was in the world, he would call here two and three times a day and tell everyone to ignore me,” he said.
Now, Hershey is realistic in his goals.
“I need time, because I can’t turn this place around in a minute,” he said.
Closer to goals. “After many months of close scrutiny by the ODA and the public, we are finally within reach of our goal: to bring a fresh and responsible approach to management of these farm operations,” Hershey said in a written statement.
“We know there is still much to do, both with respect to modernizing our operations and in gaining public confidence. We are going to work very hard on both counts,” Hershey said.
Ohio Fresh already owns the Croton site, but is still working out details with the federal Environmental Protection Agency before ownership is transferred for the northwest Ohio sites, according to Hershey.
“As soon as we own it, we’ll start making changes,” he said.
Men at work. At the northwest Ohio sites, crews are busy cleaning the empty houses.
“[The barns] were kind of left in a mess. There was a bad fly population problem there for so many years, so things need cleaned.”
Hershey said he hopes to put birds back into the barns under better conditions and keep it that way.
As soon as ownership is transferred, Hershey said he plans to cut back on the number of birds at the Mount Victory site.
Hershey said overpopulated barns will be thinned, and extra birds will be taken to empty barns at Marseilles.
The egg production farms at the Mount Victory and Marseilles sites consist of 30 barns, with 5.3 million birds total at both sites.
The Goshen Pullet Farm has 10 barns with 1,970,000 pullets.
At Croton. Meanwhile, remodeling is expected to begin at the beginning of March at the Croton farm. At the top of the list is installation of a belt battery system.
In a belt battery system, the hens are housed in wire cages stacked from floor to ceiling and manure is deposited on belts below each cage row.
The manure is dried on the belts as air is forced over it, and manure is removed to separate manure storage buildings.
Nine barns still empty from tornado damage in September 2000 will be remodeled and restocked by the end of the year, Hershey said.
“The Croton facility will look new from the inside and out,” Hershey said.
“We’re putting new insulation, siding, getting rid of the water ponds. We’re regrading and dressing the place up,” he said.
Beating deadlines. Hershey said ODA permits give the company until 2008 to have the upgrades done, but he plans to move things along and beat that deadline.
“We’re doing a lot more this year than scheduled. We may be done by 2006,” he said.
In permits. The department of agriculture changed one section of the farm’s manure management plan in the final permits as a result of public comments.
Three individuals requested installation of permanent tile stops on all land owned by Ohio Fresh Eggs where wastewater is applied.
Although not required, ODA believed the tile stops were a management practice that should be added to permits for the farms at Mount Victory and Marseilles.
Some commenters implied that the smallest of past violations of environmental law should be cause for denial of the draft permits for the Mount Victory, Marseilles, and Goshen farms, according to Fred Dailey, Ohio director of agriculture.
But no new evidence was brought forward to lead ODA to different conclusions about the Hershey’s and Bethel’s compliance history.
“I continue to believe that Ohio Fresh Eggs’ compliance history, while not perfect, indicates a willingness to act responsibly,” Dailey said.
“I fully expect their future operation to do the same, and we will closely monitor the management of these facilities to ensure compliance with the issued permits.”
Background. Hershey owns several animal feeding facilities in Pennsylvania and is the owner of Hershey Equipment Company, which provides engineering and construction services.
The company is also in equipment sales and installation of poultry farm operations across the country.
Bethel is an Ohio native and has owned and operated Hillandale Farms, an egg production and marketing company, since 1956.
Hillandale currently owns 10 million hens and markets a quarter-million cases of eggs per week in 24 states.
(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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