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Published: Thursday, 9/29/2005

Full employment for cows

THE good news is that the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority will help create 4,785 jobs at a huge new dairy farm down in Hardin County.

The bad news is that only 35 of those jobs are for taxpaying people. The other 4,750 are for dairy cows.

Why the port authority would go out of its way to aid the environmentally unfriendly Deve Dairy mega-farm project 70 miles south of Toledo is puzzling, but the action fits an established pattern.

The agency has been famously ineffective in drumming up new employment opportunities here at home in Toledo. And it's hard to see what good a factory farm with a propensity for pollution - but with few good-paying jobs - will do for the economic vitality of northwest Ohio, let alone Toledo.

Deve Dairy, planned for a site near Alger, will be the largest dairy operation in Ohio, but it won't be the type of farm your father or grandfather might have run. Instead of grazing in green pastures, the cattle will be kept tethered inside huge industrial-style barns, steadily producing milk in what is known as a "confined animal feeding operation."

What the cows also will be producing is millions of tons of manure, which is where the port authority comes in. After rejecting the project once, the port board last week agreed to provide $7 million in attractive financing through tax-exempt revenue bonds for a manure-handling system that will include twin million-gallon settling ponds and lagoons to hold 22 million gallons of liquefied waste.

The liquid manure would be spread periodically on more than 6,000 acres of property surrounding the barns. This method of disposal has become a target elsewhere for its potential for creating a major environmental hazard.

Neighbors of the project and environmentalists are worried, and understandably so, that run-off from Deve Dairy will find its way into the area's groundwater through field tiles and streams, ultimately fouling the Scioto, Maumee, and Sandusky rivers, source of drinking water for tens of thousands of northwest Ohioans.

This is not an alarmist concern. Ohioans have become well acquainted with continuous pollution problems that for years have plagued other factory farms, such as the former Buckeye Egg facility right there in Hardin County. Manure-disposal systems also tend to attract flies and produce extreme odors that become intolerable even to rural neighbors well accustomed to normal farm smells.

This would not seem to be the kind of project the port authority should be helping to finance, even though officials say no tax dollars or other public obligations are involved.

In approving the Deve Dairy operation, state and local officials have surrendered to corporate interests for whom factory farms have become the wave of the future but which promise to change the face of Ohio agriculture forever, and not to the good.

Moreover, state officials have done a disservice by recruiting farmers from abroad to operate these mega-farms, a trend that can only hasten the death of family farming as it has been practiced in this country for centuries.

All in all, Deve Dairy and operations like it present major problems for the public but don't provide enough jobs and other economic fallout to compensate. The port authority should find more worthwhile projects.



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