FARM Community battles convergence of 2,000-cow dairy development

About 50 people have joined a citizens committee in protest.
PALESTINE, Ohio (AP) -- Jack Holland has turned his kitchen into a war room. Scattered on a wooden table are zoning petitions, newspaper articles and other documents related to a 2,000-head dairy farm proposed for next door to Holland's new house near this tiny western Ohio town.
"It was forced upon us, and we're going to fight," said the 68-year-old retiree who has formed a citizens group opposing the farm.
Large dairy farms are spreading in Ohio and other states, creating fears of pollution, odor, excessive water usage and declining property values.
Developers of the farms say they try to be good neighbors and minimize impact. Ohio officials say there are volumes of regulations in place designed to control manure, insects and other byproducts of large farming operations.
That is little comfort to Holland, who had his handsome ranch-style house built so he and his wife could enjoy their retirement in what he thought would be a rural paradise.
"This is a nightmare," he said. "It will ruin our community."
Banding together
Concerned-citizen groups often spring up in response to large dairy farms. For example, a proposed 2,100-cow dairy farm near the southwestern Ohio town of Jamestown led to the creation of Citizens Against Mega-Dairies.
Ohio has 23 dairies with at least 700 cows. That compares to eight dairies with at least 500 cows in 1997.
In Michigan, the number of large dairy farms has more than doubled in the past seven years. There were 85 dairy farms with at least 500 cows at the end of 2004, up from 35 in 1998.
And in Indiana, dairies with at least 1,000 cows have jumped from 13 in 2001 to 39 this year.
The proposed Darke County farm is being developed by the Michigan-based Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development Corp. The company's dairies are operated by families of Dutch descent.
Vreba-Hoff helped open 24 large and smaller dairies in Ohio, 11 in Indiana and seven in Michigan. There are 17 under development by Vreba-Hoff in those three states. In Ohio, Vreba-Hoff dairies have been spreading from the northwest to the south.
When Holland learned that the Darke County farm was in the works, he organized a citizens committee that has grown to about 50 members. Among them is 72-year-old Susan Gray, who operates a nearby 80-acre farm and grew up on a dairy farm with about 100 cows.
Gray is concerned that manure runoff from the proposed farm will pollute creeks and groundwater. She also fears the noise. She said a farm of that size will require large fans to ventilate the animals.

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