I am disheartened by accusations coming from some members of our community who label people as “anti-farm activists” simply because they are asking for a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO) permit that will require dairy farmers to better manage their manure. Water that is unsafe for drinking, recreating in, or harvesting shellfish from due to high levels of nitrates and fecal coliform bacteria should be a concern for everyone, including dairy farmers.
Dairy farmers don’t have it easy right now. Milk prices have plummeted this year. Many dairy farmers are reaching retirement age and looking to sell. Labor is hard to find. Healthcare prices are going up. And now this CAFO permit has the potential to add even more costs. I understand their cause for concern; however, is it really that difficult to appropriately take care of manure and keep it out of water?
Let’s look at the costs of manure pollution. Lummi Nation recently had an additional 300 acres of shellfish beds closed, with a total of 800 out of 1,300 acres closed to shellfish harvest. They have lost millions of dollars in revenue for local shellfish harvesters because of high levels of fecal coliform pollution.
Where is all this pollution coming from? It comes from many sources – failing septic systems, pet waste and wildlife, but that is a drop in the bucket compared to how much manure is produced by dairy cows. One dairy cow produces 120 pounds of manure compared to the average two-thirds of a pound per human. There are about 60,000 dairy cows in Whatcom County producing 7.2 million pounds of manure each day.
I think we can have reopened shellfish beds as well as responsible, sustainable dairy farms. I think many dairy farmers are doing the best they can to keep manure out of streams. In that case, it shouldn’t be hard to comply with a better CAFO permit that focuses on applying manure at the right times and amounts and keeps it an adequate distance away from streams, creeks and ditches. Let’s stop the name calling and work together on logical solutions.