decry trend toward super-sized farms
The Associated Press
ELKTON, Mich. -- Gary Protzman has a dream. He imagines
turning his 300-cow Huron County farm into a 2,000-head,
24-hour dairy operation.
He said he believes the $12 million expansion is the
only way he can make a living and lure his two sons back
to the family business. Expenses have outstripped income
over the past 18 months as milk prices fell, he said.
"They say these days it takes at least 600 cows
for a family to make a living," Protzman told the
Detroit Free Press for a Monday story. "We figure
with two boys, that's three families. About 2,000 cows."
But with more cows comes more manure. Two-thousand cows
will produce about 45,000 tons of manure a year. It would
take about 30,000 people to produce that much waste.
Spurred by consumer demand for cheap milk, meat and eggs,
farms in Michigan and across the country are rapidly expanding.
The state Department of Agriculture estimates between
200 and 300 super-sized farms in Michigan, with dozens
Environmentalists decry the trend, saying the manure
pollutes the land, the water and the air. The Sierra Club
has filed lawsuits against four large Michigan dairy farms
since 2000 for water pollution.
Unlike smaller farms that dry their manure to be used
for fertilizer, the mega-farms generally store liquefied
manure until it can be spread on crop fields. Many of
the farmers do not own enough land to accommodate the
manure, so they contract with others to put it on their
The manure can wash into underground drains after downpours.
Environmentalists have found bacteria levels 20 to 30
times the state's limit in waterways around several super-sized
farms, called concentrated animal feeding operations,
and their crop fields.
"If not now, it's a matter of five or 10 years before
CAFOs are the largest contributor to E. coli contamination
of the Great Lakes if they continue to spread as they
have," said James Clift, spokesman for the Michigan
The Sierra Club has called for a moratorium on the huge
farms until stricter laws are adopted. The state plans
to conduct a census of super-sized farms in the next few
years and require them to meet basic federal environmental
But farming advocates say most large farms do not pollute
and most farmers are environmentally conscious. Meanwhile,
Michigan State University researchers are trying to develop
cheaper ways to treat and neutralize manure.
"We can't go back to the bucolic, small family farm
-- that's not what is associated with modern agriculture,"
said Bill Bickert, professor of agricultural engineering
at Michigan State.
"Farmers want a clean environment too. But we want
inexpensive food," he said. "I don't think the
consumer makes a connection between pristine air, clean
water and the cost of their food."
Gary Protzman's sons, 22-year-old Nick and 20-year-old
Kyle, work at super-sized farms near the family's Elkton
operation, about 10 miles west of Bad Axe. Nick Protzman
said he would rather work on his family's farm but cannot
afford to unless it expands.
"If we had 1,000 cows, it would be worth it for
me to come here and work here," he said. "I
can't make it to my potential now."