By Nancy Allen
The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has approved permits clearing the way for a 4,000-calf mega farm in Darke County, just south of Versailles, owned by a group of farmers from Mercer, Auglaize, Shelby and Darke counties.
The permits will allow the owners to modify eight existing turkey barns to house beef calves. The calf farm, called Longview Cattle LLC, will be located at 1103 Reed Road.
Bill Coomer of Versailles, who is among a group opposing the farm, said he is not sure if the group will appeal the ODA's decision to grant the permits.
"I'm not sure what we're going to do yet. I have put that (filing an appeal) on the table, but it has to be up to the rest of the group," he said this morning. "There are still so many what ifs with the ODA, they don't know, and yet they are able to fly by the seat of their pants at our expense."
The group has until Oct. 21 to appeal the approval to the Environmental Review Appeals Commission. Dave Bensman, one of the 12 farm owners, said he was happy with the permit approval and thinks once the farm is up and running, nearby residents opposing the farm will change their minds. Bensman said he understands why a lot of Versailles residents are upset.
"We have ruffled a lot of feathers with this, but the town has come around a lot since they did at first," he said.
Bensman said they will use existing turkey barns on the site, which used to be Rolls Turkey Farm, to house the calves, growing them up to 400 pounds before sale.
Versailles village officials also have adamantly opposed the operation, saying it will disrupt residents' quiet, country way of life. Issues of concern have been possible groundwater contamination, what is going to be done with the estimated 3,400 gallons of liquid manure generated annually by the calves, excessive odor and flies and a higher level of traffic flow along Reed Road.
About 150 people attended a public hearing last month to make oral testimony on the project and about 300 attended an informational session held about a month before that.
The farm will be owned by a board made up of Bensman, 3601 E. Shelby Road, Minster; Fleck Bros. Farm Partnership, 3395 Harrison Road, Celina, which includes Matt, Paul, John and Mark Fleck; Vernie Mescher, 8335 state Route 705, Yorkshire; Marion Grilliot, 9942 McGreevey Road, Versailles; Gene Niekamp, 10393 U.S. 127, Versailles; Jeff Puthoff, 8508 Barhorst Road, Fort Loramie; Kenneth Moorman, 9532 Boyer Road, Versailles; Dennis Winner, 14940 Conover Road, New Weston, and David York, 3663 Russia Road, Russia.
The board is being run by Al Holthaus of Minster Farmers Cooperative Exchange.
Ohio law considers farms with more than 999 feeder calves industrial (mega) farms they and are required to receive ODA permits to operate, agree to inspections every five years and have written plans for dealing with large amounts of manure.
Plans call for three starter barns and five grower barns, each housing 500 calves. The starter barns will house calves up to 6 weeks old, and the grower barns will house cattle 6 to 22 weeks old.
Manure from the farm will be spread on cropland. Liquid wastewater will be applied on 62 acres next to the site and will be incorporated into the ground immediately, permit documents say.
An insect and rodent control program will include weekly monitoring and recording of flies that will be controlled by spraying, baiting and fogging.
The farm will compost its dead animals, generating about 42 tons of compost that will be spread on land owned by one of the owners.
For more information on this or any permits in Ohio, go to the ODA's Livestock Environmental Permitting Program Web site at www.ohioagriculture.gov/lepp.