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Re: “Cow Country: The Rise of the CAFO in Idaho

Interestingly, as far as so-called mega dairies vs family dairy farms, the economic realities of
supporting one's family by involvement in animal and cropland agriculture is becoming more and more difficult in these changing times. I spoke with someone today who has grave concerns about the large poultry operations that are looking at the Magic Valley for a facility. As she pointed out, these are coporate-owned business who contract with local farmers to produce chickens and eggs on a sort of wage basis rather than local ownership. We in the food producing sector of agriculture call this system "vertical integration". We have felt much pressure, in these dire economic times, to go for the safety and security of a guaranteed monthly/yearly income that this model provides. We are resisting this scenario with all our might.
When I started milking cows in Jerome County 30 years ago, I milked 420 cows twice per day. Then, as the economics of operating a dairy began to change, I was complled to add more cows on a regular basis to be able to have a chance of staying in the business. As the environmental concerns became issues that we as a society needed to address, the fixed costs of milking cows skyrocketed due to required compliance with new regulations by EPA and the Idaho Dept Of Ag. These new regulations were important and needed, but they also cost a lot of money. So, I had to add still more cows to be able to pay for implementing the required changes in the regs governing CAFOs. My dream dairy would be that original 420 cows - dairying is long hard hours of work, and lots and lots of economic risk. The real small dairies can't afford to spend the amounts needed to bring those dairies into compliance with the regulations. Many of them are "grandfathered" in under the old traditional rules, so have thus far been able to continue to milk fewer cows and remain economically viable.
I have expressed my concern on many occasions that a dairy my size may no longer be economically viable in the near future. I used to operate both my dairy and my dad's dairy after his death in 2000. I did that for 5 years, until I came to the realization that I didn't want to be that "big". Now, I am coming to the conclusion that I may have made a mistake in doing that for financial reasons. I know that I made the right choice for personal and family issues. In regards to the post above mine from New Mexico, I would like to address some issues he raised:
1. I have seen no money from Mexican Drug Cartels. I just see money from established banks with lots of ag clients.My ongoing source of income is from milk sales, which comes from the processors.
2. I do not burn plastic from the silage covers, nor do I burn baling twine. We recycle our plastics.
3. We hire people who come looking for jobs, and keep them employed if they perform well. We see almost no "Anglos" loooking for work because they do not apply for these jobs, for some reason. That reason can't be salary, because our entry level salary is $2000.00 per month. Many of the people who work for me have been with me for decades. So, our starting salary for unskilled labor in $2000.00 per month, and the top guy makes about $60,000.00 per year. In addition, we carry health insurance, and lobbied hard for Work Comp coverage for agriculture workers and haved carried that for the 30 years I've been on this farm, well before it was made mandatory under Gov Phil Batt's leadership. In addition, we have a policy to pay for the college education of the children of employees in order to encourage them to go to college. Through the years, we have spent hundreds of thousand dollars to fund these scholarships. The children on the dairy start working part time in high school, if they wish, and continue that through college. We, in turn, make sure that the jobs are such that the kids can play on the soccer team, go to prom, write a big term paper and all the other things that are an important part of the high school experience. However, if they drop out of high school, they can never work for us again. This is to discourage them from quitting in order to join the fulltime workforce sooner.
So, there are a lot of statements about the dairy business that are just not true on my and many others' dairies. I also detect quite a bit of racism in his comments, which I hope doesn't trump the real, valid concerns of many thoughtful people on the environmental issues that are so important for the future of our world.
And a footnote: my daughter is married to a Mexican National, and their 2 children have dual citizenship (Mexico & US). My brother-in-law, who has been married to my sister for 47 years and counting, is a US citizen of Mexican descent. The godparents of my youngest son are Mexican Nationals living and working in the US. So I find this racist chauvinism about Mexicans (and any other immigrants, although the focus seems to be on people of Mexican descent) to be very disturbing and discouraging on many levels: personal , philosophical, and humanitarian.
So that's my 2 cents worth!

5 likes, 0 dislikes
Posted by Janey on 11/09/2010 at 10:29 PM

Re: “Cow Country: The Rise of the CAFO in Idaho

My name is Jane Miller Ledbetter. I have been the owner/operator of C Bar M Dairy for over 30 years - all of those years in the same location in southwestern Jerome County. When my father, Ted Miller, died in April of 2000, my sisters and I decided to operate the dairy jointly under the name Ted Miller Dairy, in honor of our dad's memory. This LLC leases the actual dairy facility from Jane Miller Ledbetter dba C Bar M dairy (me). The application was made by the landowner - Jane Miller Ledbetter dba C Bar M Dairy (again, me), not Ted Miller Dairy.
I am no longer married to Dr. Greg Ledbetter and he has no ownership interest in this family farm. I am eager to clarify the rest of the inaccurate comments made about me and my family's farm and wll contact the author of this article in an effort to do so. I'm not sure about his repeated unsuccessful attempts to contact me at the Ted Miller Dairy listed phone. We don't have a phone listed under that name that I'm aware of. At least, we certainly didn't request the listing, and aren't being billed for it!
A comment was made in the article about the irony of the fact that Dean Dimond, who testified against the eastern Jerome County CAFO application, is a Republican. I'm not sure what political affiliation has to do with good stewardship of our resources, but the fact is that I am a Democrat, and have been involved in liberal politics since the late 1960's, as are my sisters, and as were my parents in their lifetimes.

4 likes, 3 dislikes
Posted by Janey on 09/02/2010 at 6:44 PM

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