News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Legislature proposes bills to halt industrial-scale farms

Reporter for The Canyon Weekly

Two bills in the Oregon legislature would rein in industrial-scale livestock farms after lawmakers responded to concerns over local Foster Farms chicken ranches.

House Bill 2667 would impose a moratorium on new and renewed permits for large-scale livestock operations, and Senate Bill 399 would cap stock-water exemptions for all farms.

Both were introduced Jan. 9 at the opening of the 2023 legislative session and are waiting to be taken up by their respective committees.

The proposed bills are sponsored by Sen. Michael Denbrow, (D-Portland), who chaired a workgroup last year examining the impacts of industrial-scale poultry farms, including three proposed near Jordan, Scio and Stayton. 

At the conclusion of the workgroup in September 2022, Denbrow said it seemed appropriate to regulate industrial agriculture similar to the way Oregon regulates the cannabis industry. Such laws emphasize local control and the broader environmental impacts of cannabis operations.

Proposed bills

HB 2667 would impose a moratorium on permits issued for concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) by the Department of Environmental Quality and the State Department of Agriculture (ODA). A CAFO permit is required to construct and operate a large-scale livestock farm, and the moratorium would apply to both new permit requests and renewals of existing permits.

This would prevent approval of CAFO permits for Hiday Poultry Farms LLC, near Stayton, and Evergreen Ranch, near Scio, and prevent renewal of a CAFO permit issued for J-S Ranch, near Jordan, when it expires Sept. 30, 2025. The three ranches plan to raise broiler chickens for Foster Farms, with a combined total of 12.5 million birds per year.

The bill said the moratorium would allow lawmakers time to study the impacts of CAFOs on air quality, water quality, climate, smaller livestock farms, local communities, worker health and animal welfare. 

The state could then consider appropriate regulations to address arising concerns.

SB 399 would amend exemptions for livestock watering, which would apply to all farms and not only those requiring a CAFO.

Exempt water use would be capped at 5,000 gallons per day, and farmers using an exemption would need to notify the Water Resource Department and measure all stock water. 

If use exceeds 5,000 gallons per day, a farmer would need to apply for a water right permit or cease watering livestock.

The large-scale chicken ranches proposed for the area might use more than 125,000 gallons of water per day when their flocks are fully grown, according to data published by the National Institutes of Health.

Initial attempts

These bills represent a second attempt by Denbrow and others to place limits on CAFOs, with an initial try failing during the 2019 legislative session. 

These former bills, which focused primarily on the dairy industry, were written in response to a regulatory fiasco at a megadairy in Hermiston two years before. 

Lost Valley Farm was granted a CAFO permit in 2017 before proper storage facilities were built to handle the massive amounts of manure produced by 30,000 head of cattle. 

Appropriate storage was never completed and millions of gallons of manure accumulated, contaminating the local water table.

Regulators attempted to correct the situation by imposing heavy fines, however owner Greg te Velde refused to clean the waste or pay the fines and ultimately filed bankruptcy in 2018, then ceased operations that October.

The abandoned manure had to be cleaned up by the next owner, Cody Easterday, of Easterday Farms, whose own ambitions for a megadairy fell to ruin when he was sentenced Oct. 4, 2022, to 11 years in federal prison for defrauding Tyson Fresh Meats of $244 million for cattle he sold but never owned.

Despite failure of the bills in 2019, Denbrow and his colleagues successfully lobbied ODA to adopt a new two-step approval process for CAFO permits. 

First a farmer receives approval to construct their facility, then receives approval to populate and operate the farm after the facility is completed, which would help avoid a repeat of Lost Valley Farm.

The CAFO permit for J-S Ranch, approved May 26, 2022, was granted under this new system.

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