Environmental groups are pushing back against the Cuomo administration's plan to support a growing yogurt industry by easing regulations on large-scale dairy operations.
The Greek yogurt industry is growing so fast in New York the state doesn't have enough cows to meet the demand for milk. At a "yogurt summit" in Albany last August, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called Greek yogurt one of the best entrepreneurial opportunities in a generation.
Farms with up to 200 cows are exempt from regulations requiring extra steps to prevent pollution from cow waste. Cuomo has proposed raising the limit to 300 cows to help farms expand without incurring high regulatory costs.
At Cuomo's summit in August, Ontario County dairy farmer Kerry Adams said the regulations would cost her farm $2,400 per cow if she expanded past the threshold for what is defined as a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation.
The Department of Environmental Conservation held public hearings on the proposed change in the dairy regulations and accepted formal public comments through Jan. 22.
In their 80-page comment document, the Sierra Club and other groups said the proposal would likely add 25,000 cows to New York's dairy herd, resulting in more than 3 million additional pounds of urine and feces produced each day. "Without doubt, some of this urine and feces will pollute surface and groundwater and air."
Dairy farmer Tom Borden, president of the Washington County Farm Bureau, said Thursday the proposal would help small farmers stay in business by making a small expansion affordable.
The Farm Bureau estimates that potentially 800 farms across the state would be in a position to add 100 cows if the new rules are approved, but not all would have the desire or resources to do that.
Greek yogurt is thicker and creamier than more traditional yogurt and requires more milk in its production.
The rapid growth of the Greek yogurt industry in New York has revitalized the state's dairy business. The nation's No. 1 and No. 2 Greek yogurt brands, Chobani and Fage, are both expanding plants in central New York, and the total number of yogurt plants in the state is now 29, up from 14 in 2000.