By Timothy Cox
Ross-Medford Farms LLC, located in rural Darke County near New Weston, has been granted a permit from the Ohio Department of Agriculture to (ODA) build four new layer houses that may hold 1.28 million hens.
It is the third mega farm permit issued by ODA this month for West Central Ohio farms, including two in Mercer County.
The Ross-Medford project will include the construction of four new barns that would house 288,000 laying hens each, a 50,000-square-foot manure storage facility and a pond to hold egg wash wastewater. The farm already has 183,000 hens.
Despite concerns about odor and pollution voiced by neighbors of the farm on Ross-Medford Road, the farm owners say they will be good neighbors. They point to the fact they already have made changes during the permitting process to allay concerns.
"We are firmly committed to being good neighbors in the community we call home," Ross-Medford Farm's operators said jointly in a news release. "That is why our operation has made a significant investment in utilizing state-of-the-art environmental technologies at the new farm. We also hope that as grain purchases increase and new jobs are brought to our local community, local residents will reap the benefits of this expansion." Operators of the farm include Brian and Dave Winner, of North Star, Kevin Winner, of Rossburg, Ralph, Chris and Randy Rindler, all of St. Henry, and Kasey and Ronald Schwieterman, of Fort Recovery.
In addition to construction of the new barns and adding more livestock, the owners also have plans for manure management, insect and rodent control, dealing with dead animals and for dealing with any emergency situation that could arise. All of those plans are part of the final permit approved by Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Fred Dailey, although some of the plans have been changed throughout the permit process.
For example, farm operators had intended to use a windmill-driven aeration system in the wastewater pond. To address local concerns, however, they switched to a plan that would use seven mechanical aerators to keep odors down.
"Our families have a long history in being responsible stewards of the environment and responsible citizens of our community -- nothing about that will change as we embark on this new project," the joint statement from the farm owners said. "We recognize that we must demonstrate our commitment through our actions -- and we will."
The farm's records would be inspected twice annually by ODA officials to ensure its operators are conforming to their license requirements.
The farm can begin construction 30 days after Dailey signs the permit. Residents who still oppose the issuance of the permit can appeal the issue to the state Environmental Review Appeals Commission.
State ODA officials have been busy this month considering permit applications from area farms. Permits also were approved earlier this month for Warnock Poultry Farm, 196 Fox Road, Fort Recovery, to expand its layer hen operation from 99,999 chickens to 299,563 total birds, and for Wuebker Farm, 2129 Wuebker Road, Maria Stein, to increase the number of laying hens from about 125,568 birds to 302,568 hens. The Wuebker farm also raises 600 swine and 400 dairy calves, numbers that did not change with the new permit.
In March, ODA approved a permit for the Rindlers to expand another farm outside of St. Henry to 1.3 million laying hens. That facility also includes an egg processing facility.