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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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A bill pending in the state legislature aims to help dairy farmers meet expected cost increases for implementing new manure regulations.

The bill authorizes an income tax credit for Ohio livestock owners who make eligible investments in equipment and facilities for storing and handling manure as well as its application and transportation.

The credit is capped at 50 percent of the investments made between 2005 and Jan. 1, 2020. Livestock owners are to claim the credit over five years.

Eligible investments are defined as those incurred to meet state law covering manure in the watershed of the western basin of Lake Erie and to meet U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations in other parts of the state.

House Bill 297 is before the House Ways and Means Committee. In his sponsor testimony last year before the committee, Representative Brian Hill, R-Zanesville, said the passage of Senate Bill 1 in 2015 resulted in costly regulations for livestock producers. That bill prohibited the application of fertilizer with nitrogen or phosphorus and manure in the western Lake Erie basin on frozen ground, saturated soil and during certain weather conditions.

“The new regulations on small livestock producers are set to take effect in less than two years and will take effect for mid-sized producers in less than a year. This short timeframe immediately puts these farmers on-the-clock to create a plan to change their manure management practices,” Hill told the committee.

The Legislative Service Commission estimates tax revenue loss to the state could reach into the tens of millions of dollars annually if the credits take effect. The state general revenue fund would bear about 97 percent of the revenue loss and the rest would be borne by the local government fund and the public library fund.

The committee heard testimony from proponents last month and in February.

Scott Higgins, chief executive officer of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, said small and medium-sized dairies are being squeezed by the regulations.

“At the same time that these new regulatory requirements are becoming law, the milk prices are very low and farms are struggling to continue to cover their existing overhead, feed their cattle and provide for their families and employees. Over the past five years we have gone from 3,220 dairy farms to 2,670 dairies. That said, we still have 270,000 cows—this is a signal that smaller dairies are going out of business and selling to larger dairies. While ODPA represents all sizes of dairies, the average herd of an Ohio dairy is 96 cows. So while our large farms can sometimes get a lot of attention, I think it is important for this committee and leadership in Ohio’s legislature to know that the majority of our dairy farms are truly small and medium size businesses, “ he told the committee.

Paul Haskins, a dairy farmer in Knox County, testified his family has received an estimate of about $245,000 for the design and construction of a facility to store four months of manure from his herd of 150 milking cows. A less expensive option still costs more than $1,000 per cow.

“While we do not farm in the western Lake Erie Basin, we are trying to be proactive and do the right thing, but we also have to be able to afford these changes or you will see small and mid-sized dairy farms like ours closing down,” he said.

A spokesman for Rep. Hill’s office said he’s discussed the bill with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Agriculture Department.

Vicki Askins, of Cygnet, O., who has mounted a legal challenge to the permit process covering Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, said last week she is concerned the operations will benefit unfairly from the bill’s tax credits.

 

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