A proposed 4,500-cow dairy farm in Hardin County, which would be the largest in Ohio and among the 100 largest in the country, received its state permits this week, and developers say construction will start within two months.
"It's a very big deal," Steve Snowden, the county's economic development director, said of the impact on his rural, agricultural county.
The Ohio Department of Agriculture announced yesterday that it had approved the permits.
The dairy, to be called Van Deurzen Dairy LLC and located about 75 miles south of Toledo, should produce 37,000 to 38,000 gallons of milk a day, a total of six semi-tanker loads. Annual sales should average at least $13.5 million, but could be as high as $15 million with high prices and production, dairy experts estimated.
The investment in such a dairy likely will range from $25 million to $30 million, according to industry experts.
The dairy is to be built by Walter Van Deurzen and his family, who live in the Netherlands, but plan to move to county to operate it.
At capacity, it probably will employ 35 to 45 people full time in addition to the family, said Cecilia Conway, a spokesman for the developer, Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development Inc., based in Wauseon. But other dairy experts have predicted the number of employees or independent contractors will be closer to 75.
Most workers will be paid $7 to $10 an hour, and managers will be paid $33,000 a year or more, Ms. Conway said.
The family's goal is to complete construction within 10 months and start milking cows next spring, Ms. Conway said. But it will be at least spring, 2007, before the dairy has all 4,500 cows.
Originally, Vreba-Hoff hoped to break ground last fall, but the permit process took longer than anticipated. Ms. Conway said additional tests were conducted when questions were raised about the type of aquifer near the dairy.
Vreba-Hoff is controversial for its work developing sizable dairy farms for new European immigrants in western Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, and has faced organized opposition, especially in Wood County.
When the firm announced plans for the Van Deurzen Dairy last year, it underestimated the number of heavy truck trips the dairy would bring to rural roads, which are not built for such traffic.
Hardin County Commissioner Jerry Cross said opinions on the proposed dairy appear to be split in his area.
Most farmers support the dairy, he said. Dairies buy corn and hay from farmers, giving them an additional market for corn - one of the area's biggest crops - and creating a significant market for hay, which has not been a large crop locally.
Some agricultural experts see more large dairy farms as a way to help local crop farmers stay competitive at a time when they face rising land prices and increased competition from South America.
But many village residents - the dairy is to be located south of the village of Alger, population 888 - worry about the possibility of water contamination or other environmental problems, Mr. Cross said.
To him, whether the dairy will be an economic engine or a nightmare for the county will all come down to management, he said.
He gives a local example.
The former Buckeye Egg Farm L.P. gave large farms a bad name in Ohio with repeated environmental violations. But Ohio Fresh Eggs, which has taken over Buckeye's hen houses, some of which are in Hardin County, is seen far more positively, Mr. Cross said.
How hard it is to manage a 4,500-cow dairy will depend largely on how well owners and developers have planned for economic and environmental challenges, said Normand St-Pierre, a dairy management expert at Ohio State University.
Van Deurzen Dairy would surpass Stoll Farms Inc., which is now the largest dairy in Ohio with 3,250 cows in Wayne County, where it has operated for generations. Stoll Farms, however, has permits for 3,840 cows.
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