By JAROD ROSEBROCK • Progress Correspondent
PAULDING – An organization formed for Paulding County residents concerned about large livestock farms, what they call “megafarms” or “factory farms”, held their fourth meeting to discuss the issue on Tuesday, July 8.
With about 50 from Paulding County in attendance, the group discussed the problems associated with megafarms and possible remedies to the situation. There were also a number of representatives from certain megafarms in attendance at the meeting to defend procedures used by these farm businesses in their operations.
The Citizens Concerned for Quality Health, Water and Air in Paulding County have three main issues, which are as follows:
“1. We have a right to enjoy our home and property. 2. We care about quality health, air and water. 3. We want legislation, regulations and local control that protect us and our rights.”
Paulding County resident Pat Paulus, former professor of biology at Texas Christian University, led the meeting, and let attendees know that she didn’t know the significance of the issue until one of the megafarms came near her house. After that, she started researching the problems and found that they involve issues such as, declining property values, health concerns, air quality and water quality.
“If we sit on our hands and don’t do anything, we’re going to have more manure and soon it is going to be on your road,” Paulus warned those at the meeting.
Terry Wehrkamp of Cooper Farms was at the meeting as a representative of megafarms. He commented that, while he couldn’t speak for all megafarms, Cooper Farms works very hard to be a part of the community around it and does all it can to make sure the farms are as little of a problem for those living in the area as possible.
Of the issues concerning the group, the most important was declining property values caused from being located near the megafarms. These declining property values are due to a number of issues, including poor odor and air quality, the excess amount of manure generated and used, problems involved with water quality because of manure generated and water needed to feed the livestock, and the lack of local control over the location and operations of the megafarms.
The biggest of these concerns was the large amount of manure generated and used by the megafarms and the problems that brought on the properties in the area. One of these problems is the smell generated by the mega farms.
Meeting attendees who also attended township meetings regarding the mega farms reported that they were told that the smell would last about six months. Now, in some cases two or more years later, they say that smell still exists and makes spending time outside no longer enjoyable.
Whether that means sitting out looking at the stars, having cook outs or celebrating holidays such as Independence Day, they can no longer enjoy life outdoors at home with the smell of the mega farms permeating their property. Paulus mentioned that she often checks the wind direction to find out if the smell will be heading toward her home.
Paulus commented that manure in itself isn’t a problem if there isn’t too much of it and it is well managed. This statement reinforced a sentiment throughout the meeting that there are megafarms that fulfill the regulations set forth and megafarms that do not.
Some of the issues discussed that involve mega farms not following requirements include farms spreading manure when rain is expected, with the rain causing the manure to run off into the ditches. Other violations include manure being sprayed off the fields, getting manure on the roads and other not-field areas.
Overall, the manure issue was a major one among those at the meeting. Denny Sanderson commented that no one wants Paulding County to become the manure capital of northwest Ohio, saying that this will deter potential businesses and residents from locating in the county.
Paulus added that those opposed to megafarms are concerned because no one knows the amount of manure the environment can handle, and unless limits are set up, there won’t be away to find out that number until it is too late.
In addition to the manure concern, those at the meeting also discussed the worry of the effect of the megafarms on the water in the area. One such issue that was discussed was the issue of water quality. The group was concerned about the quality of the water in the reservoirs, streams and ditches in the area of the megafarms.
Sanderson asked about the possibility of doing testing on the megafarm properties. Paulus responded that individuals were not allowed to do testing on farm property because of trespassing laws, but could do testing in ditches and streams not on the property. Sanderson went on to say that there should be a requirement in place in which the farms are forced to do their own water testing.
Another area of concern involving water was the use of water in large amounts. The group discussed the effect of large use of water involved in feeding and cleaning the livestock on the area aquifer, which is the underground water supply that provides the water for the area. The group was concerned the large use of water would cause a water shortage in the long term.
Even with all of the concerns, most people at the meeting agreed that there are good and bad megafarm operations, with one of the good ones being Cooper Farms. However, the sentiment still existed that Cooper Farms’ megafarms were causing property values to decline.
Wehrkamp offered an invitation to anyone with concerns to stop by a Cooper Farms facility to take a tour and see how it is operated. He commented that Cooper Farms operates with the community in mind, and if they didn’t have their farms in Paulding County, another facility would move in, and that mega farm might not have the same outlook as Cooper Farms.
Paulding County resident Lou Levy disagreed with Wehrkamp’s assessment of the situation.
“You talk about the devil you know being better than the devil you don’t,” but you are both still devils if you are putting your farm next to my property,” he said.
Levy went on to say that home owners have the right to enjoy their properties, but they can’t because of the farms. He also mentioned that they can’t move either because no one wants to buy a house located next to a megafarm.
Paulus echoed Levy’s thoughts, saying that the farms and the property owners aren’t all in this together because while the property owners are seeing the property values decline, the mega farms are seeing profits.
Wehrkamp reiterated that Cooper Farms wants to educate residents about these farms and how they operate. He was asked to confirm or deny a rumor that a lot of people at the meeting had heard saying that Cooper Farms is planning to bring 17-20 new farms to Paulding County. Wehrkamp confirmed that it was true.
Paulus commented that hearing those numbers is what worries the group. She commented that the property owners are having to deal with the smell, having their aquifer used up, having roads damaged by large trucks, and the company is getting the profits. She called the situation “not very neighborly.”
Wehrkamp responded that all farming requires fertilizer because farmers don’t want to use the land and not re-fertilize it, adding that manure is economical and completely safe if done properly.
As the meeting began to wind down, Paulus discussed some remedies or ways to combat some of the concerns expressed at the meeting. Some of these ideas included writing letters to the editor of area newspapers and starting a petition to limit the megafarms.
She also told attendees to keep an eye out for violations such as spreading manure on frozen ground, spreading manure in a solid stream rather than using a sprayer, getting manure on non-field areas when spraying and driving semis that are over the weight limit for the roads they are on.
Paulus encouraged everyone to take pictures of these violations and fill out written incident reports of the situation.
She also asked everyone to pick a topic that was discussed at the meeting and research it to learn more about it and report back to the group. Some of those topics include wells and aquifers, permit requirements, manure management practices, environmental factors, and right to farm vs. home-rule information.
Closing the meeting, Paulus commended everyone in attendance on both sides of the arguments on their abilities to discuss the issue while being respectful. She hopes the group continues to meet and doesn’t let this issue die. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 5 at the Nature Center in Paulding.