By Nancy Allen
A family originally from the Netherlands wants to put up a 2,100-cow dairy operation in the northern part of Mercer County.
Bert DeBruyn, who moved to Rockford last June with his wife and four young children, has applied to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) for permits to build the mega farm. If the application is approved, the dairy would be built north of Tama Road, just east of Township Line Road in Hopewell Township.
DeBruyn this morning said he plans to design his farm to exceed ODA environmental regulations and has nothing to hide. He encouraged neighbors with questions about the dairy to come speak with him.
"We want to do this better than they require," DeBruyn said. "We will have more land for the manure than required and more storage for the manure."
ODA spokeswoman Deborah Abbott said an operation that size would produce roughly 13 million gallons of liquid manure, 5 million gallons of milk house wash water and 2 million gallons of sand solids. Sand is used as bedding for cows. The exact engineering of a manure storage facility for the farm and a written plan to manage the manure are still being worked out with ODA.
The application process can take from three to nine months to complete, after which, the ODA will begin taking public comments on the proposed dairy, Abbott said.
Ohio law considers farms with more than 700 cows an industrial farm. Such farms must receive ODA permits to operate, agree to inspections and have written plans for safely dealing with large amounts of manure.
The application for DeBruyn is being developed by Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development, Waeseon. The company from the Netherlands has been helping mostly Dutch dairies from the Netherlands and other operations set up in the United States for about five years.
Proposed plans call for the dairy to be built on 86 acres of land, which DeBruyn has an agreement on to purchase after ODA permits are approved, said a Vreba-Hoff spokesperson.
Rockford area grain farmer Mike Hawk has agreed to grow alfalfa and corn silage for DeBruyn's cows and supply 3,500 acres of land to spread the manure on, DeBruyn said.
The dairy would operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week and employ roughly 20 workers on three shifts. Workers would milk the cows three times a day, DeBruyn said, adding he hopes to find local labor with knowledge in dairy farming. He has not begun actively looking for workers yet, he said.
Most of the county's large livestock farms are located in the southern part of the county. The northern part of the county near Rockford, Mendon and the site of the proposed DeBruyn mega dairy is comprised mostly of grain farming operations.
DeBruyn is a fourth generation dairy farmer from the Netherlands. He started when he was 13 working at his uncle's farm milking 17 cows, and when he was 18, purchased the farm and combined it with his father's dairy. His Netherland farm had 200 animals and was a combination milking and breeding operation that sold embryos to several countries.
Due to high land prices and a planned government road expansion through the middle of his farm, DeBruyn moved his family to New Zealand in January 2000 and ran a 900-cow milking operation.
Originally he looked at building a dairy operation in Paulding County, but instead went to New Zealand. There currently are four Dutch dairies operating in Paulding County.
The family lived in New Zealand for three years before moving to Ohio.
DeBruyn said he did not like the pasture-based system of raising dairy cows in New Zealand, where the animals eat a grass-rich diet and remain outdoors most of the time.
The system in the United States that uses free-stalls, climate control and a grain-rich, high protein diet appealed to him.
"The situation where you can house the cows in free standing stalls in sand bedding and feed them well every day is better," DuBruyn said. "It costs more, but at the end of the day, the cows bring you back more."