Enviros say N.Y. yogurt could harm air and water quality

It’s the same old story: business growth vs. the environment.  At least that’s recent media portrayal, as the NY Department of Environmental Conservation considers a proposal to change dairy regulations.

It’s been widely publicized that the Greek yogurt business is booming in New York.  Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt, and requires more milk in its production.

Manure disposal at Stauffer Farms in Nicholville. The Stauffer dairy has well over 200 cows, and is regulated under more strict DEC rules. Photo: Julie Grant


Companies, like Chobani and Fage, both based in upstate NY, say they need more milk than the Empire State is producing.  But when Governor Andrew Cuomo hosted his “yogurt summit” last August, he heard from farmers who couldn’t afford to expand.

The state regulates farms more than 200 cows, requiring extra pollution prevention controls on cow waste.  Farmers at the summit said expansion could cost thousands of dollars per cow.  Cuomo proposed raising the limit to 300 cows, to help farms expand without incurring the high regulatory costs.

The Department of Environmental Conservation held public hearings on the proposed change, and accepted public comments through much of January.  The New York Farm Bureau and dairy operators the proposal would help small farmers stay in business.

But a coalition of environmental groups submitted an 80-page comment document, saying that easing dairy regulations would likely add 25,000 cows to NY’s dairy herd.  They said that would result in more than 3 million additional pounds of urine and feces produced each day. "Without doubt, some of this urine and feces will pollute surface and groundwater and air."

The coalition includes Riverkeeper, Waterkeeper Alliance, Earthjustice, Environmental Advocates and Citizens Campaign for the Environment.  They say the proposed deregulation is a violation of the federal Clean Water Act, and would prevent the DEC from enforcing manure runoff limits meant to protect Chesapeake Bay.

Both Chobani and Fage are planning expansions, and the North Country needs new economic development.  The Ogdensburg Port Authority recently decided to lobby for a new yogurt manufacturing facility.  But if they're going to manufacture here, they will need enough milk.  I keep wondering if there's another way to boost production, without adding more pollution.  (Stay tuned: in the next few weeks The Dirt will take a look at RBST/ RGBH as a means of increasing the milk supply, and why yogurt companies don't like it.)


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  1. The change in law that allows more than 200 cows was handled in typical Cuomo style…Very little discussion, very little input, and a tip of the hat to big money. Left out was the consideration of the real difference between 200 cows and 201 cows. Either way, it's a lot of poop, and mishandling can cause dramatic problems to the environment across the street, across the river, and across the state. The raising of the number from 200 to 300 was a short term fix that ignored the long-term problem. A fool running a farm with only 20 cows can wreck the nearby stream, and should be bound by the same laws and protections as the big guys.

  2. As far as the environment is concerned, the Governor would not have made such a proposal if NY's dairy farmers hadn't demonstrated a proven effort to be environmentally responsible. For example, between 2002-to-2009 the agricultural nitrogen load delivered from NY into the Chesapeake Bay watershed decreased by more than 27%, according to the EPA. (The EPA measures all sources from urban runoff to wastwater.) NY's water and water quality standards are second to none. Plus, with new assistance programs courtesy of the Governor including expansion of anaerobic digester grants to turn waste into energy and his Dairy Acceleration Program (DAP) initiatives, farms of all sizes have additional support to grow responsibly. NY Farm Bureau also encourages the farms to take advantage of the Agricultural Environmental Management(AEM) program which has proven to be successful. Much planning by a dairy farmer must take place before any expansion of this size takes place. Michael is right, all it takes is 1 cow to pollute, but if a farmer is to be successful, he or she must also be responsible to care for the land and water they depend on to run their farms, and NY farmers are clearly capable of doing both as they have shown time and time again.

  3. Well, we have 3,000,000 acres of abandoned farmland in NY at this point.

  4. Please, adding cows to dairy farms will not be the source of pollution to our environment. Farmers understand how to manage manure. It is important to them and their operations to do it right. Otherwise their operations would be harmed and they would be out of busienss. They have been doing it right for decades, even before government stuck their noses in.

    Histerical environmental no growth revert back to caveman time types want their cake and be able to eat it too! How do we produce food if we aren't allowed to have the ability to increase production that is in demand without huge government DEC intervention? Besides, increasing milk production helps dairy farmers who have the ability and technical knowledge to produce raw milk to sell to manufacturing plants. We need more milk, the demand is there, it helps provide more good paying jobs within the system. It can be done right.

  5. nyfarmer has a salient point-NY state has ample redundant grass farmland that can and needs to be returned to production. Responsible manure management is being practiced every day by NY's dairymen the length and bredth of upstate. If these yogurt plants get the aditional milk they need, 4 billion pounds/year, the realistic number of additional cows necessary is actually estimated by the Northeast Dairy Foods Assoc. at not 25,000 but 180,000… so somebody needs to get busy.

    • Nate, I don't know what you mean by "redundant grass farmland that needs to be returned to production".

      • Kirby,
        I may have misspoken; I was using nyfarmer's figure that may be a little dated since the ethonal mandate has spurred a massive moldboard plowing of previously unused land out here in western N.Y. that should have stayed in sod… none-the-less, there is much farm land out this way, going back to scrub and brush that could be renovated back into productive intensive rotational grazing and grass hay production.

  6. I think it a mistake to assume with the expansion to 300 cows that dairies won't voluntarily install manure storage resulting in less of an environmental impact then when they were at <200 cows!

  7. Great comments and I might just add that NY farmers know how to keep the water clean but if storage of manure was mandated and only spreading was allowed during DEC approved time tables for dairies over 50 cows it would work. Spreading manure on corn ground in the snow before spring thaw should be heavily penalized as a starting point for controlling water quality. Everyone wants river bottom soil because it grows great crops but every spring I watch the floods wash everything from those locations into our rivers and always wonder how can this still be happening. If I see it the DEC is also seeing it, they just choose to ignore it and that is where the problem begins.

  8. The real issue here is that farmers need to be paid a profitable price for his milk. Expanding his herd only serves the needs of those that want to take the milk off his hands. Since when did milking cows become charity? Just because processors say they need more milk does not mean they are willing to pay extra for it. Needing more milk only means the have capacity to process more milk. No where do they make the claim they have a market for it. Excess inventory sets our future price. Cheese processors are by far the most guilty at playing this game. Milk is a commodity… Farmers, learn to treat it as such…your buyers have. The national dairy producers organization has the plan to fix this problem.

  9. "Environmental extremism" is turning off a lot of people. Yes, it does come down to jobs and food to eat versus defective environmental policies. If this craziness continues, there will be no farmers left to feed people locally or nationally so consumers can get ready to spend a lot of money for energy to transport their food long distances from places like China, and it will not be fresh! That seems to be what the environmentalists want. These "Agenda 21" strategies will eliminate food production in our backyard. Farmers have been caring about the "environment " before "environmentalism" became the new, modern "religion." Farmers are aware of the value of manure, too, as a soil builder for earthworms and as a responsible source of natural fertilizer. As Mr. Eby states, farmers must be able to pay their bills, and the same federal government beating up farmers with "Save the Bay" executive orders also controls dairy farmers' milk prices and has been keeping the farmers pay price below the cost to produce milk since the early 80's. Only by adding cows and pushing higher milk production per cow can farmers try to keep up with the higher input costs like escalating feed bills from the government's stupid so called "green" energy corn ethanol insanity. Look what that boondoggle is doing to the environment! Overall, there are fewer dairy cows in our traditional dairy communities thanks to dairy farmers being pushed out of business by low milk prices for decades. The remaining farms get bigger trying to stay in business. Sometimes the banks require the "expansions." Low milk prices are why farmers used BST shots, and consumers don’t like them! Low milk prices are why extension experts told dairy farmers to "double your herd" every 10 years if you want to keep your "standard of living"—great "standard of living"—deprivation, insolvency, bankruptcy! Dairy farmers have suffered personally from decades of inadequate milk prices, and now they are being finished off by unsustainable environmental regulation! Suit yourselves! Our nation’s food supply is going to get interesting! And, yes, the dairy processors should be paying more for the farm milk they buy from dairy farmers, but their friends in the federal government don't require it!

  10. I really wish mr extinct dairy farmer was still in business he sounds like he would be a wonderful asset to the national dairy producers organization.
    Something else to consider here is the source and the initial reason for this article. I'm going out on a limb here but I can't help but wonder if this was a set up article for perpetuating the rbst philosophy. Did you notice that is to be a follow up article? This would be a creative way to stage the need and supposable benefits. Lets not forget 100% of rbst milk goes straight into the products that sit in inventory which drive down future prices paid to farmers of all clases of milk. Another good reason to ban the use. Processors play it to the public that they don't like rbst in fluid milk yet they hide it in butter, powder and cheese. Can someone explain to me the difference. I thought this was supposed to be a health issue. This is done to create a niche market in which they can profit as well as control the price paid to farmers by manipulating inventory. . It's time to let the truth be known and watch to cockroaches scatter. Who in?