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Petro: Fighting a legal battle to help livestock farming in Ohio
A little known legal challenge by activists against a new dairy farm in Hardin County is being reviewed by the state Environmental Review Appeals Commission, a judicial body few people may have heard of but whose ruling could be felt in Ohio’s farm country for years to come.

The commission first heard testimony last spring from an opposition group demanding that the Ohio Department of Agriculture rescind the operating permit of the just-built Frisian Hijma Dairy in Pleasant Township. The agency issued the permit in 2003 after determining plans for the farm complied with strict state environmental laws.

As the agriculture department’s lawyer, my office vigorously defended the agency’s well-founded decision to allow this modern, 825-cow operation to open for business. The commission has yet to issue its ruling. For the sake of agriculture and its future in Ohio, we are hopeful they uphold the department’s decision.

The group that brought the legal action was afraid manure from the storage pond at the farm might pollute local water supplies. They tried to make the case that Ohio’s tough environmental laws governing the largest livestock and poultry farms aren’t tough enough, and for that reason the Hijma farm should not be allowed to operate. Such a decision would set an awful precedent for other large livestock and poultry farms in Ohio.

My office argued strenuously that the law already requires the Hijma farm to meet rigorous design standards to protect local water supplies.

In approving the operating permit for the farm, the agriculture department examined numerous analyses and concluded the farm met those standards. The evidence presented by my office at trial demonstrated that the department’s well-reasoned decision was based on the law and the facts and reflected the state’s keen interest in safeguarding the public.

Family farms like Hijma are an economic boon to Ohio’s agricultural areas and the state as a whole. Ohio’s dairy farms buy grain from local growers, usually paying them extra. Dairy farms lead to the creation of food processing jobs nearby.

Dairy farms produce fresh, nutritious food that Ohioans want to buy, keeping consumer dollars inside Ohio instead of flowing out of state. As we work to make sure farms are good neighbors and take proper steps to protect the environment, it’s also good to remember that agriculture and agribusiness are good for Ohio.

-Jim Petro
Ohio Attorney General

Published in the January 25, 2006 issue of Farm World.