SPRINGS — Insane, ridiculous, unbelievable — just some of the words
used to describe a federal proposal to regulate greenhouse emissions by
taxing dairy farms $175 per cow.
New York Farm Bureau says the fee would cost the state’s struggling dairy industry $110 million per year, possibly forcing some people right out of business.
The tax, in varying amounts, would be applied to other livestock as well, including beef cattle and hogs.
“This is almost crazy,” said Bill Peck, co-owner of Welcome Stock Farm in Northumberland. “Some years you try to have a profit margin of $175 per cow. Other years you lose $300. There wouldn’t be any dairy farming left. I understand we’re in a tight budget situation and governments are trying to come up with revenue sources.
“But we’ve also got to have business. If there’s no business, there’s no revenue.”
His farm has 495 milk cows and a total of 1,000 animals. The tax, if approved, would cost him $175,000 per year.
“That’s a huge amount to take right off the top,” Peck said. “You’ll see a mass exodus of dairy farms.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed a permit program to regulate all types of greenhouse gases, a major contributor to global warming.
“We’re getting lumped in together with cars and coal-fired power plants,” Farm Bureau spokesman Peter Gregg said. “Greenhouse gases are coming from everywhere, all over the world — India, China. Other countries aren’t doing something like this. We’re getting taxed while our competitors aren’t.
Saratoga County has about 15,000 dairy cows and there are 627,000 statewide. The tax on beef cattle and hogs would be $87.50 and more than $20 per animal, respectively. Any operation with more than 25 dairy cows, 50 beef cattle or 200 hogs would have to obtain a permit, the same as factories and heavy industry.
“Livestock have been on the planet as long as humans have,” Gregg said. “Farm animals simply don’t (emit) greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at a higher rate than any other living thing.”
A public comment period on the proposed tax ends Friday, he said. People may file comments at Farm Bureau’s Web site, www.nyfb.org.
“This just came on our radar in the past week,” Gregg said. “We’re going to be furiously lobbying to get agriculture exempted from this.”
At the same time, farmers are also faced with stricter environmental regulations to prevent animal waste runoff into water sources. Building such projects is extremely expensive and there’s a possibility that state and federal funding will no longer be available.
David Wood of Eildon Tweed Farm in West Charlton installed a new $600,000 manure control system two years ago.
“We were supposed to be reimbursed 75 percent,” he said. “We’ve gotten $170,000. It doesn’t look like we’ll be getting any more. I wouldn’t have done it all if I’d known what was going to happen. We do everything we can to minimize greenhouse gases. It poses a real challenge to comply with all the rules.”
His farm has 800 milk cows and nearly 600 young stock. A new greenhouse tax would put unbearable financial strain on already hard-pressed farmers, Wood said.
“We’ve got the lowest milk prices we’ve had in several years,” he said. “Plus, credit is getting very tight. So that would be kind of a double whammy.”