Local dairy farmers share struggles with regulation, industry

VERONA, N.Y. -- New York officials have announced $20 million dollars will go to 56 dairy farms throughout the state.

Posted: Dec. 26, 2017 6:48 PM
Updated: Dec. 26, 2017 6:55 PM

VERONA, N.Y. -- New York officials have announced $20 million dollars will go to 56 dairy farms throughout the state.

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This money is earmarked for projects that will bring farms into compliance with state regulations on manure storage.

It's part of the state's Clean Water Infrastructure Act of 2017 and farmers apply for the grant to help offset the costs of renovating their facilities. Their goal is to prevent cow manure, which can carry the E.coli bacteria, from seeping into ground water supplies.

However, local farmers say the funding does not cover the entire cost of the renovations, chipping thousands of dollars from their bottom lines.

"It was a huge figure that's hard to meet," Pat van Lieshout, owner of Brabant Dairy Farm said. "It's very expensive to try to meet all the regulations that they're pushing." 

Brabant Dairy Farm came into compliance in 2016 when they installed a new, $800,000 manure storage tank. The state only covered $400,000 of the cost. 

"Regulations are made from people that sit in an office," van Lieshout said. "Certain months you can't do this, and then starting with the next month, you can spread. They're trying to make textbook regulations that work everywhere, and every piece of ground is different. Often times, regulations apply to our land that would have no bearing on any potential for the manure getting in the groundwater, because we are on pretty flat ground here. It doesn't slope anywhere."

According to van Lieshout, the manure spreading regulations are only part of the struggle New York dairy farmers face.

"The labor costs in New York state are crazy compared to other areas of the country," van Lieshout said.

"They're making up regulations constantly concerning how old a child can work, the minimum wage," Jessica van Lieshout, Pat's daughter and an agriculture student said. "A big part of our education is that, if you can keep your costs at their lowest, then you'll be able to make it."

Many of the regulations apply to farms with 300 cows or more. Still, smaller farms aren't immune to struggles.

Due to decreasing milk prices, Gasstrom's Farm in Ilion has started growing hops and making beer, in the hopes of putting revenue back into their dairy operation.

"Diversification, trying to supplement some of that, offset some of the lower prices of dairy," Grant Gasstrom, owner of Crazy Williez Brewery said. "It's tough because the margins aren't there and the demand, the domestic demand in the country isn't there."

"Certainly it drives up the cost of production and if the milk prices aren't enough to meet the cost of production, then farms go out of business," van Lieshout said. "There's been a huge exodus of farmers."

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