Lost Valley Farm, the second largest dairy in Oregon, has been in the news numerous times with diverse legal issues. The drama would make for a great made-for-TV movie, but I don’t think it would air on the Hallmark Channel.
Last year, 59-year old Greg te Velde, of Tipton, California, sought permits for a 30,000 cow dairy, which would make it the second largest milk producer in the state of Oregon. The dairy is located on 7,000 acres near Boardman, along the Columbia River in North Central Oregon. More importantly, the site is near the 70,000-head Threemile Canyon Farms, the largest dairy in Oregon. Permitting 100,000 cows in close proximity seems like more than a concentration.
There was trouble from the start. To say it lacked local support might be the understatement of the year. There were 4,200 public comments opposed to the dairy in writing.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture and Department of Environmental Quality granted the CAFO, and the dairy began operations in April of last year. About the same time, the dairy began racking up citations, as well. Lost Valley failed numerous inspections, was cited four times for permit violations and fined $10,640.
The most interesting legal twist was the arrest of the owner for soliciting a prostitute and possession of methamphetamine. That happened on August 19, 2017, in Kennewick, Wa. Greg te Velde was one of 10 people arrested in a Tri-Counties prostitution sting.
That was not the only criminal case te Velde faced. He was cited for careless driving contributing to an accident, after he hit an Oregon Department of Transportation truck, on Interstate 84 in Hood River County and fined $450.
On the civil side, te Velde was sued by a company that worked on construction of Lost Valley. Laser Land Leveling, Inc., an Idaho contractor, alleges they are owed $1.4 million on a $5.8 million contract.
In January of this year, the Oregon Department of Agriculture took legal action to close the dairy due to the environmental problems caused by non-compliance. The agency and the operator, however, reached a settlement, and the dairy remained in production, although with weekly inspections.
The latest news is that while the owner made peace with the state agency, he was not able to achieve an agreement with his lender. The dairy is reportedly $60 million in debt, with multiple notes in default, to Rabobank, a Dutch agricultural lender. The banker is calling for a foreclosure sale. To date, the owner has not permitted anyone from the auction house, Toppenish Livestock, on the property. There are 10,500 milking and dry cows and 4,000 replacement heifers the bank wants sold on April 27.
Let’s count the different kinds of lawyers that Lost Valley needed in the past two years: an environmental lawyer for the permitting process and repeated violations; a business lawyer for proper business creation; a criminal lawyer for the soliciting and possession and careless driving; if he was married, a divorce lawyer may have been needed when his spouse discovered the solicitation charge; a civil litigator for the construction non-payment suit; and a bankruptcy lawyer for dealing with debtor/creditor issues with Rabobank. That is a total of five, minimum.
Contrast this scenario with the recent news about the 130 family dairy farms who are facing closing their operations because Dean Foods canceled their contracts. Walmart opened their own processing plant and prefers to deal with big farms sending whole semi loads. Most of those family farms canceled by Dean Foods have never had an environmental violation, a civil lawsuit of any kind, and certainly no criminal charges. The cost of production on these farms is clearly lower than the high overhead created by the new construction of massive operations. It has been established repeatedly that the quality of milk on small family dairies is preferable to that of the very large dairies.
Not to mention the genetics of the cows — the small family dairy farms have cows that have been selectively bred for generations. The largest dairies go for quantity over quality. Family farms tend to have aged cows in their milking string. On a very large dairy, a three-year-old is a rarity and a relic.
Where do your want your milk from? I keep hearing that folks want fresh, safe, healthy food from local family farms. What are we, as a country, doing to make sure this happens?