Local entities prepare for opening of new dairies in area

Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers

Bathed in sun rays almost year-round and encompassed by tall mountain peaks, the San Joaquin Valley is an agricultural bedrock.

It is also awash in smog.

California officials say the 2.5 million cows in the valley are a major culprit. The animals emit 24 tons of ozone-forming gas per day in the valley, according to the California Environmental Protection Agency.

By July 2006, the state will require large dairy facilities — defined as operations with more than 2,000 or more cows — to reduce livestock emissions. In the valley, dairies with 1,000 or more milking cows will be forced to abide by the new standards.

Dairies in the Clovis area are currently free of emission regulations although federally imposed livestock emission regulations are in the works, according to Walter Bradley, director of government and industry relations for the Southwest Area of Dairy Farmers of America. As a result, the dairy industry in eastern New Mexico and western Texas is mushrooming, much like the San Joaquin Valley’s did years ago, according to several local and state agriculture officials.

There are approximately 150,000 cows within a 50-mile radius of Clovis, according to Bradley. That number will jump to 200,000 by mid-2006, Bradley said.

Bradley said eight new dairies are poised to move into the area and about 12 more are interested in establishing a business in the Southwest area.

An employee at Don Pool Construction in Clovis said the company is building four dairies in the area.

Doug Rains, New Mexico Agriculture Department public relations officer, said Southwest Cheese is responsible for the boom. The plant will process 7 million gallons of milk per day at full capacity.

Dan Briggs, general manager of a yet-to-open 75,000-head dairy calving operation in Muleshoe, said the eruption is due to stricter regulations in California.

“Dairies are moving here from another location. As (dairy) saturation gets heavy in one area, the regulatory agencies really bear down and make it onerous to operate a dairy. It’s not profitable to stay there,” Briggs said.

The majority of new dairies are indeed former California operations, Bradley said, with Wyoming and Idaho also contributing to the influx.

Briggs manages an operation for Fullmer Cattle Co. — its headquarters in California.

That may soon change, too.

Briggs said the owners of Fullmer Cattle have already relocated to Muleshoe, and are looking to move company headquarters closer to Lubbock or Amarillo.

“Because there is no (dairy) concentration (here), dairies don’t run into problems of affecting underground basins with run-off water. Thirty or 40 years ago, California started getting a large dairy concentration,” Briggs said.

Dairy migrations are cyclical, Briggs added. “In thirty years, you (eastern New Mexico and West Texas residents) may want to say that’s enough as well,” Briggs said.

Some area residents are already brandishing the stop sign — at least when it concerns their back yard.

Members of a Parmer County church are fighting an application for a dairy permit in the Lariat area. The proposed dairy site — on the south side of U.S. 70-84 — is about a mile from David Symm’s home.

Symm, pastor of St. John’s Lutheran Church, said if a dairy were built in close proximity to his home and church, the respiratory health of church preschoolers and his family would be threatened.

“Because of its proximity to us, immediately across the highway, it’s a concern. Four of five of my family members have asthma. It’s already hard enough for them on western Texas days when the wind picks up,” Symm said.
“Sooner or later we will be just about covered up with (dairies) here.”

Approval of the Parmer building permit was postponed due to community resistance, Symm said. He said a final permitting decision will be made Nov. 9 in Austin. Members of the community will again voice their disapproval of the proposed dairy site, he said.

City of Portales Community Development Director Jeremy Sturm said he doesn’t see a downside to the growing dairy industry in eastern New Mexico.

“Obviously dairies are very important to economic development in our area,” said Sturm, noting there are 45 dairies in Roosevelt County alone.

He feels the dairies are generating a positive flow of money into the local economy and the more money circulating the better everyone does in business.

“They’re always talking about the amount of water dairies use and all that,” Sturm said. “But I feel the economic benefit offsets that at this point.”

Though the battle is reminiscent of many waged in the San Joaquin Valley between residents and dairymen, and environmental groups and dairymen, it isn’t likely the pollution problems that plague southern California today will be repeated in western Texas and eastern New Mexico, according to California environmental group officials.

“The (San Joaquin) valley is perfectly formed for retention of air pollution. In New Mexico, air emissions may dissipate. In the valley, they are sitting on sun and cooking and forming fog,” said Kelly Malay, San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District public information officer.

The state, however, has always been an anti-pollution trailblazer, said California Air Resource Board spokesperson Gennet Paauwe.

“From what we can see in the San Joaquin Valley, (ozone-forming gas) is here because dairies haven’t been controlled up until now,” Paauwe said.

Still, some are looking beyond permits and regulations for solutions, Paauwe said.

She said recent research indicates changing the diet of dairy cows could help lower their gas emissions, which are higher than those of beef cows.