Minnesota's largest dairy planned for Swift Countyby Tim Post, Minnesota Public Radio
West central Minnesota could soon be home to the state's biggest dairy. The Swift County Board is considering plans for the 6,600 head East Dublin Dairy. Some local residents are concerned the huge dairy will harm the environment and create an odor that would spread to nearby towns. Supporters of the farm say it will be environmentally safe and boost the region's economy.
Collegeville, Minn. — Agriculture experts say the big dairy is in line with a trend toward larger farms, and say it's the type Minnesotans can expect to see more of in the future.
The dairy would be built on the east side of Dublin township a few miles from the small towns of Murdock and Kerkhoven. The family hoping to build the state's largest dairy didn't want to talk to MPR for this story, saying they prefer to keep their business private.
But some local residents who aren't happy about the proposal are speaking out. Pete Kennedy, of Swift County Citizens for Responsible Growth, is afraid the odor alone from a farm with 6,600 cows will ruin their country lifestyle.
"We do have a certain quality of life in the rural area. I think that's why most people either move here or continue to live here, and we just see that as a real detriment to this quality of life," Kennedy said.
Kennedy doesn't think the county or the state has done enough to investigate the environmental effects of the proposed dairy. But what's required in this case has been done. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency reviewed the dairy's plan, and decided it didn't require further assessment.
Kennedy's group has filed a complaint in court, asking that the project be put on hold pending further environmental study.
Ten years ago there were only about 20 dairy farms in the state with more than 1,000 cows. As of 2004, that number had risen to 60. That's mostly for economic reasons. Dairy farming is costly, and the more cows a farmer has, the easier it is to cover expenses and make a profit.
Margot Rudstrom, a dairy expert at the West Central Research and Outreach Center in Morris, expects the average size of dairy farms will creep upward from about 80 cows now to 150 in the next decade. And she says the state will likely see more megadairies.
"We could see continued expansion on that larger scale. A lot of it's going to ride on the public's acceptance of modern dairies. And really coming to understand what those operations are. They're not scary," Rudstrom said.
According to Rudstrom, a well-run megadairy can afford to hire good managers and put in place high-tech odor prevention. And Rudstrom said big dairies put out a lot of milk and that keeps milk and cheese processors in business, something all dairy farmers need.
"I think we need those large dairies here. The processing plants need those large dairies here. The small and moderate size dairies need those large dairies here. In this industry I think diversity in terms of size is a good thing," Rudstrom said.
But some think that diversity shouldn't include dairies with upwards of 7,000 animals. Paul Sobocinski with the Land Stewardship Project said talk of dairies with 300 to 500 cows is one thing, but 6,600 cows is on a different scale.
"We are into something completely different. I think once you get into that kind of size you're looking at a type of factory, a huge industry, that has more significant impacts," Sobocinski said.
Sobosinski hopes the state spends more time helping Minnesota's small dairies. Instead of one megadairy, he says 100 small dairies would provide more economic benefit to a region by spreading out profits among more farm families.
The future of East Dublin Dairy is up to the Swift County Board. The board will consider what conditions the farm should operate under, then vote on what could become, at least for now, the state's largest dairy.