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August 17, 2012
NY yogurt industry finds a friend in Cuomo

New York’s Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo shook up the national debate on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) by announcing a proposal to raise the limit on the number of dairy cows a farm may have before becoming subject to state CAFO regulations. The announcement, which was made at a “Yogurt Summit” hosted by the governor, prompted immediate praise from the state’s farm bureau and expressions of concern from environmental groups.

Under current New York law, a medium CAFO has between 200 and 699 mature dairy cows and is subject to state permitting if it discharges manure or process wastewater into waters of the state. Permits require that owners/operators develop and implement comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMPs) intended to mitigate pollution through implementation of farm-specific best management practices. CNMPs, which must be science-based and approved in New York by certified planners, require a range of engineering controls affecting waste storage structures and manure applications. Compliance with the state requirements can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars even for smaller operations.

300-cow threshold

Under the proposal, a small dairy farm would be able to increase the size of its herd from 200 to 300 milking cows without being defined as a medium CAFO and being forced to meet permitting requirements.

Governor Cuomo’s proposal is tied to the state’s booming yogurt industry. Since 2000, the number of yogurt process plants in New York has increased from 14 to 29. From 2005 to 2011, New York’s yogurt plants doubled in production. Over the same period, the amount of milk used to make yogurt in New York increased dramatically from 158 million pounds to about 1.2 billion pounds. Most of the increase in yogurt is due to the introduction and production of Greek-style yogurt, which requires three times more milk than traditional yogurt. In New York there are more than 800 dairy farms that could benefit from the change by expanding milk production for yogurt manufacturers.

Yogurt empire

The New York Farm Bureau called the governor’s action an “unprecedented step” that will ensure that New York becomes the “yogurt empire of the world … while also maintaining the highest environmental standards.” The action also demonstrates that state farmers “have a friend in Governor Cuomo,” stated the Farm Bureau.

However, in a statement, the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, Riverkeeper, and other environmental groups said the proposed action will weaken environmental protections that are essential to protecting the state’s waters from being contaminated with animal waste.

The groups stated, “Just this year, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation reaffirmed the need for mandatory permitting of industrial farms to protect water quality: ‘a non-regulatory approach, for a sector that has a significant pollution potential (the smallest CAFO has the pollution potential of a major sewage treatment plant), is neither credible nor effective.’”

The groups said they look forward to engaging with state officials to develop an alternative proposal that supports the dairy industry “with the resources they need to protect the clean water on which we all depend.”

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