Three Cayuga County farms are getting some state aid to upgrade their manure storage, assistance greatly needed at a time when farms are dealing with new regulations and falling milk prices.
Sennett farm Peters Dairy, Scipio farm Van Ridge Dairy and Valley Mound Farm in Scipio Center are all concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) benefiting from the latest round of funding in the CAFO Waste Storage and Transfer System Program. CAFOs typically are dairy farms with 300 or more cows.
Five Onondaga County farms also received funding including William E. Richards & Sons LLC in Skaneateles, Gemini Farm in Elbridge, Scholten Dairy in Van Buren, Barbland Dairy in Fabius and Pastureland Dairy LLC in Pompey.
Brian Hall, a certified Agricultural Environmental Management planner and nutrient management specialist with the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District, said the program gives farms more management options. It also helps them comply with new CAFO permits the state Department of Environmental Conservation released last year. Those permits have stricter guidelines on spreading manure in the winter. Spreading on snow or frozen ground can cause manure to run off the land and into ditches, streams or water bodies, impacting water quality.
"We're dealing with much more different weather extremes," Hall said. "Having a longer-term storage is going to increase, again, their ability to manage around those weather extremes and be safer for everybody."
Third-generation Valley Mound Farm owner Mike Whitten said he's building an additional pit because of the new CAFO regulations. According to his program application, his farm produces about 336,000 gallons of waste each month.
"I have about two months of storage in my current manure pit, so I don't have enough to get through the winter without spreading," he said. "We basically are having to build this manure pit in order to keep in compliance."
With between 350 and 360 cows, Whitten hopes the new addition will increase his manure storage capacity to between six and seven months. The project will cost over $460,000, about $347,000 of which the state will pay. Though Whitten's cost share is still a difficult lift, he said it's a lot easier than paying the total.
"Especially with the way the price of milk is this year, I wouldn't be able to spend that kind of money," he said. "Without the funding, I wouldn't be able to do it period. ... It's really good to have these grants available. It helps to keep me going."
Don Peters of Peters Dairy is also feeling the pain of low milk prices. The 1,200-cow third-generation farm is down about $1.5 million in income per year, he said. The additional pit he's building will store about seven million gallons taking the farm from about 2 1/2 months worth of storage to about 7 1/2.
According to application documents, the pit will cost near $740,000 with the state covering about $385,000.
"It's expensive in dairy right now," Peters said. "Every little bit helps. It's something that the state says we have to do. There's really not a payback on it. It's definitely better for the environment."
The third Cayuga County farm, Vans Ridge Dairy, produces nearly 3 million gallons of waste per month, according to its application. It will build another manure lagoon costing about $773,000 with the state contributing about $385,000.
All three farms are expected to have their new storage complete by the fall of 2019, their applications show.