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Dairy farms in Northern NY

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July 16, 2013
One of our summertime interests up here in NY's North Country is driving around the countryside and looking at the varying landscapes, trying to get lost on back roads and then figuring our way  without maps. "Ant - the sun is setting in the west, it's on our left. Which way are we going?" That sorta stuff.

Everywhere we go in Jefferson County we see dairy farms and corn and hay. There are lots of abandoned older barns and silos, farms of the last century when a farmer could get by with 100 acres and 20-30 cows. Those oldtime farms have been consumed by newer, bigger dairies - now it's a 1,000 acres with 200-300 cows. Those cows produce a lot of manure. That manure is spread liberally across the fields. Manure stinks! Manure has high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous. That can pollute groundwater and streams.

Here is a mound of manure being excavated after it had time to ferment, compost, decompose and dry out.

** update -- I hear in the comments that this is probably silage that has been piled up and covered with the plastic and tires from last year (or before) and is now being used. I really don't see much diff between what goes in and what comes out. And then gets sprayed in the fields for them to eat all over again.

More about this stinky issue, piled higher and deeper, below the fold.

Bigger farms, more cows and tons of manure. How about we just make everything bigger but not regulate as much? That worked out so well for the big banks. Well I got a politician for ya, one that can squeeze both sides of an issue.

The current controversy goes back to last summer and the Governor talking at the infamous “yogurt summit”. Greek yogurt has become quite the fad and there is not enough milk to produce all the yogurt that could be sold. Cuomo's solutions - reduce standards for the size of dairy farms. "This will make it much easier for small farms to grow."

The average milking cow produces 150 pounds of manure a day. Multiply that by 300 cows on a farm and you've got a whole lot of you-know-what.  .... Bill Cook, with Citizens Campaign for the Environment in Syracuse, says that comes out to 750,000 lbs. of waste a month.

His figure is actually low – it's 1.3 million pounds of manure a month. But his point is raising the threshold for mandatory manure management plans from 200 to 300 cows is a bad move. Water quality experts around the country will tell you agricultural runoff, from manure, pesticide, and fertilizer-covered fields, is the biggest source of non-regulated water pollution.

By NY regs, at 200 cows, the farm becomes known as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) and must obtain a comprehensive nutrient management plan (CNMP) developed by a certified planner.  The CNMP is very expensive. The original plan may cost the farm $10,000 or more and then thousands of dollars for yearly updates. Required practices, such as a manure storage lagoon, may cost the farm nearly $100,000.

The CNMP involves determining soil nutrient requirements, crop nutrient requirements, and the actual nutrient content of the manure. Environmental factors are considered such as field slope, and nearby waterways.  Did I tell you it's quite hilly around here? Creeks and streams are everywhere and eventually run into Lake Ontario.

Map from the state DEC.

Ever wonder what it looks like inside a modern dairy farm?


Stanchion Barns - Stanchion Barns usually feature an individual stall for each cow but instead of being “tied” into the stall, the animal’s head fits through a stanchion or locking device that prevents the cow from backing out of the stall once the stanchion is locked in place. Food and water are kept available at all times in front of the animal.
From the Watertown Daily Times last fall:
Costs for a hypothetical dairy farm that increased its herd from 190 to 290 cattle.
The study concluded the farm would be saddled with debt for the expansion of a barn ($180,000) and cows ($202,500). And to comply with regulations, it would incur an estimated $162,000 in expenses for the first year, including the installation of manure storage equipment and the hiring of a certified planner. Though the farm’s annual revenue would jump from $845,278 to $1,235,618 from the dairy operation, expenses would likely increase at a proportional rate. Additionally, the farm would need to take out a loan to finance $544,500 in debt for the herd expansion and to comply with regulations. Its annual cash margin would drop from $35,991 to $13,395.

“It’s keeping me from going to the 200 to 300 cattle range because of costs of the manure system,” said Mr. Bach, who distributes the manure in his fields,“I would have to have manure storage and store it on the farm for a specific period of time, maybe all winter long” depending on the plan. If the governor’s plan took effect, though, he’d increase his herd size to about 250 cattle right away.

“Adding 30 cows would make me about $15,000 to $20,000 a month after bills,” he said.

Maybe, maybe if the farmer skirts the current CAFO regulations, he might make a buck.  However, also from the Daily Times in 2010:
The problem that continues to plague dairy farmers is low milk prices. Milk prices in New York fell as low as $11.47 per 100 pounds in August, before rising to about $14 per 100 pounds in April. But farmers still aren't breaking even, as the cost of production is $16 or $17 per 100 pounds.

Note the size of the barns & silos in the background. Then drive a mile down the road and there is another dairy.  And then another, and another... In between are the fields of corn, hay, and some wheat. Lost the link but -- manure is spread on the corn field before planting, then again after harvest. Manure is spread on the hay field after first mowing (now) and then again in the fall.

Up the road from the state park is a small trucking operation. They have 3 or 4 big tankers, like a fuel carrier, that suck up the fresh manure and spray it out on the hay fields. The stench is eye-watering and nose-numbing, but the corn is very green and lush. One of the biggest farms in the area got their start when the state bought out their little family farm in 1966 to establish Southwick Beach State Park and the family was able to consolidate farms farther inland.

The downside to CAFOs
Wiki - here and here.

About August 10, 2005, the Black River was contaminated by a spill from a manure lagoon on a CAFO dairy farm near Lowville, NY when a retaining wall gave way, allowing the contents of a waste holding pond to spill. About 8 million US gallons (30,000 m3) of pollution flowed into the river. An estimated 250,000 fish were killed. ...
The New York Department of Environmental Conservation mandated a settlement package of $2.2 million against the dairy. The farm is one of the county's 20 largest employers.
That was an earthen wall by the way.

I found this website that list the pros and cons of CAFOs.
Does the Manure Generated by Large Dairy Farms Cause Significant Water Pollution?
You may make your own judgment.

Cornell University has Agronomy Fact Sheets - the science behind dairy farms and manure usage. With all them facts, you can't fail buddy. On the other hand - the Mennonites that live in this area have no problem getting by with smaller farms and a dozen cows. Several old farms in fact have been restored and barns rebuilt.

Another hot one here on the east shore of lake Ontario, mid-80s and dry. The hay fields getting doused this week will be very ripe. It's a wonder the gulls can stand it as they pick thru for seeds and bugs.

Hope this guy harvesting wheat has AC in that cab.

And The Daily Bucket is now open for your thoughts and observations...

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