COLUMBUS - The Ohio Department of Agriculture yesterday named a farmer and conservation engineer to head its new division overseeing so-called factory farms like Buckeye Egg.
Kevin Elder, a partner in a Fairfield County family farm, will leave his job with the Department of Natural Resources's Division of Soil and Water Conservation next week to help establish the program.
The General Assembly instructed the department to write new regulations for large livestock operations, particularly the way they manage the tons of manure produced by their animals.
“Few people have the combination of hands - on expertise in farming, pollution abatement, soil management, and manure-handing systems as Kevin Elder,” Agriculture Director Fred Dailey said.
A recently signed law, sponsored by state Sen. Larry Mumper (R., Marion), transferred duties from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to Agriculture for the supervision of construction, inspection, permits, pest control, and pollution issues at farms with 1,000 or more “animal units.”
That's the equivalent of 1,000 beef cattle, 700 dairy cattle, or 100,000 laying hens.
Under the new law, ODA will issue permits for the construction of major livestock operations and regularly inspect existing farms for operating permits that will come up for renewal every two years.
The law requires checks into the criminal and regulation compliance backgrounds of those seeking permits to establish farms.
The department's authority over megafarms will take effect in six months to a year, when the regulations have been completed.
The move was supported by the farming lobby, which reasoned that Agriculture understands the industry better than EPA.
Mr. Elder dismissed the argument of some environmental groups and small family farmers that Agriculture is too close to the industry to regulate it effectively.
“The Department of Agriculture has regulated the dairy industry since the 1950s, conducting inspections of every dairy farm in the state,” Mr. Elder said. “It has regulated food produce.”
The Elder Brothers Farm owns 680 acres and rents 900 acres for beef, swine, corn, soybean, wheat, hay, and pasture.
The farm does not raise enough livestock to qualify as one of the 125 “concentrated animal feeding facilities” covered by the new law.
With his background in farming and soil conservation, Mr. Elder has practiced what he preaches by implementing erosion control, crop rotation, and no-till planting on the farm where he grew up.
“They do pay off,” he said.
“It costs to put them in, but you can pay for them in the long run.”