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DEC slated to change CAFO rules in attempt to spur dairy farm growth

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An increase in the number of animals a farm can have before Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation rules apply to it is designed to help farmers to grow their business, but farmers and agricultural agencies say it won’t result in a farming boom.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation rule change, set to take effect Wednesday, will allow farms to have 299 cows before they are required to comply with CAFO rules – up from 199 under the current system.

“We have a lot of farms in this county that stayed under the threshold because of the requirements,” Dawn C. Howard, St. Lawrence County Soil and Water Conservation District manager.

Mrs. Howard said roughly 20 farms in the county have kept their herds under 200 cows to avoid the costly regulations, and the rule change may prompt them to expand.

Michael E. Haycook, branch manager of Potsdam Farm Credit East, has studied the pact of removing the CAFO requirements on farms with less than 300 cows.

“CAFO is a barrier and does cause an economic hardship for farms who want to increase,” he said.

While the actual cost of complying with CAFO regulations varies depending on the farm, Mr. Haycook said giving farmers the chance to increase their herd to 299 cows before having to comply will help encourage more development.

“I’m one of the ones that it would apply to,” Philadelphia dairy farmer Michael B. Kiechle said.

Mr. Kiechle is president of the Jefferson County Farm Bureau and operates a dairy farm that milks 115 cows and has a total of 200.

“It may push a few farms to expand, but you’re not going to see a rapid run to expand by 100 cows,” Mr. Kiechle said, estimating that a 100-cow expansion would cost roughly $1 million.

Mr. Kiechle said he doesn’t think the new regulations will foster widespread growth in New York’s agricultural sector because the cost of complying with the CAFO regulations – even if it approaches $150,000 – wouldn’t be prohibitive if someone was already considering a $1 million investment.

“It’s a small piece of the puzzle,” Mr. Kiechle said of the CAFO regulations. “I don’t just add cows. You also have to have land. My equipment isn’t big enough, and you also have to have barn space.”

But Mr. Haycook said that when farms expand they also become more profitable.

A farm with less than 100 cows will earn roughly $26 per cow, Mr. Haycook said. A farm with 100 to 299 cows will net $270 per cow.

“That’s 10 times more profitable,” he said.

If expansion does occur, however, it won’t be overnight, Mr. Haycook said.

“I don’t think there will be a flood of farms that are looking to do it right away. Every farm has to look at their individual circumstances,” he said.

The changing rules will also mean farms with between 200 and 299 cows that are currently considered CAFOs will no longer be regulated as such.

DEC spokesman Stephen W. Litwhiler said there are two farms in St. Lawrence County, four in Lewis County and five in Jefferson County that will no longer be considered CAFOs under the rule change.

Brent A. Buchanan, agriculture issue leader at the St. Lawrence County Cornell Cooperative Extension, said the change “opens up more management decisions for these folks so they’re not teetering on noncompliance.”

“It’ll spur development to a limited extent,” Mr. Buchanan said.

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