In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Change.”
This week, our governor appointed Marty Myers, manager of Threemile Canyon Farms, to the Oregon Board of Agriculture. Threemile Canyon is owned by a North Dakota corporation, and is one of the nation’s biggest factory dairy farms, a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), with state permits to expand to 90,000 cows.
About 85% of Oregon farms are small or mid-sized, operated by families and individuals.
Between 2002 and 2007, when Threemile Canyon was growing its cattle operations, almost half of Oregon’s dairy farmers went out of business, about nine a month.
Is this a good thing or bad?
Inevitable, says Threemile Canyon operators, if we are to make farming sustainable. Only corporate farms have the resources to afford expensive water treatment and manure-recycling equipment. The company is working to create a closed-loop system, growing much of their own feed, using recycled water and fertilizer from manure. About a quarter (23,000 acres) of Threemile Canyon’s 145 square miles of property is set aside for conservation. They have an extensive line of organic products. One of their biggest clients is Tillamook Cheese, a landmark on the Oregon coast, which started out as a mom-and-pop dairy.
Bad news, say small farmers, who not only face prices they can’t compete with, but also point to Threemile as the state’s largest source of agricultural air pollution. Manure from Threemile releases up to 2850 tons of ammonia gas each year. The company recently acquired a taxpayer-subsidized methane digester, but it captures from less than half of the cows. According to the US Forest Service, Threemile Canyon is one of the biggest sources of haze and acid fog in the Columbia River Gorge. With over 50,000 cows and growing (more than all the cows in Tillamook and Clark County combined), the operation produces twice the biological waste of a city the size of the state capitol, Salem. The cows are “confined,” meaning they spend most of their lives standing on concrete.
Supporter or detractor, there is no doubt Threemile Canyon Farm has money to buy influence. Since 2012, the company has given $90,000 to Oregon political candidates, spent $178,000 lobbying state legislators and the Governor’s office for tax credits, favorable trade deals, and maintaining Oregon’s weak laws governing factory farms. Even many small dairy farmers are financially connected: most in the Tillamook area are stakeholders in the Tillamook Dairy Cooperative, which Threemile Farms supplies.
I support new and better ways to recycle waste, produce food more efficiently and in healthier ways, but my inclination is to keep all farmers’ feet to the fire when it comes to pollution, whether it be carbon, ammonia, methane or manure. I also get suspicious when one company dominates political spending, and sends a chunk of its income out of state. What’s the priority for a company like this? Greener farming or higher profits?
For many of us in this traditionally small-farm state, the era of factory farm is a big change. For better or worse? We will see.