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Published: Thursday, 11/13/2003

Dairy farm concerns sour warm welcome


When Johannes Hijma began looking for an area to develop a large dairy farm, he was drawn to Hardin County because of the lack of competition and friendly atmosphere.

But many of the smiling faces that may have greeted him at first have turned sour after learning that the Dutch farmer was given his final permit to build an 825-cow dairy farm just a few miles from Kenton, the county seat.

Construction will begin soon on the Frisian Hijma Dairy, which will be operated by Mr. Hijma and his brother, Sybolt. The brothers are among an increasing number of foreign farmers setting up dairy farms in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan with the help of Vreba Hoff Dairy Development LLC. Kenton is 70 miles south of Toledo.

“When I came to the United States, Vreba Hoff toured us around and showed us some property for sale and I got a good impression,” said Mr. Hijma of his experience about two years ago. “Plus, if you look in northwest side of state, there already are so many Dutch farmers.”

The farm will be built on 80 acres on Township Road 100 and Mr. Hijma hopes to be up and running by summertime.

Included in the permit is a free-stall dairy barn, a dry-cow dairy barn, and two earthen storage ponds, as well as a concrete settling basin.

The farm site is the third chosen by Mr. Hijma, who had planned to build closer to town. An outpouring of opposition convinced him to look farther from the city of 8,336 people.

The change in plans was a signal to members of the Ohio Environmental Council that the farmer was willing to work with his new community. But the influx of 825 cows and the resultant manure they will produce continues to worry the group.

Some area dairy farms have discharged liquid manure accidentally into nearby waterways. In Hudson, Michigan has sued two Vreba Hoff facilities for the unlawful discharge of agricultural waste.

Linda Lange, who lives within one mile of the Frisian Hijma Dairy, points to the potential for pollution to explain why she fears her new neighbor. Ms. Lange said the farm is within a mile of about 30 homes and within two miles of about 120 homes.

“I think it s too close to town and too close to too many families,” she said. “I don t think anyone s really looking out for us here.”

Deb Abbott of the Ohio Department of Agriculture s Livestock Environmental Permitting Program stressed that permits - required for dairy farms that have 700 animals or more - are in essence operation manuals. The permits govern all aspects of manure storage and application, regulate the farm s insect and rodent control plans, and establish compliance and enforcement procedures.

Mr. Hijma has established a deal with a local crop farmer who plans to use the manure on his fields. Residents are concerned that this means the Department of Agriculture no longer monitors the manure.

“It s not a free pass to do what they want, they need to abide by this permit, and if they re not, something will change,” Ms. Abbott said, adding farms are monitored by state inspectors. “There are regulations they need to follow and if they don t, [the permit] can be pulled.”

Farmers have a significant stake in their environment, said Cecilia Conway of Vreba Hoff Dairy Development. Ms. Conway said because farmers live on site and feed their cows local water, they are interested in keeping it clean. “The farmer definitely has the public interest at heart because they are affected by the same things,” she said.

The permit won t be finalized until after a 30-day appeal process. Some residents said an appeal may be in the works.

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