090116 Farmers Say EPA's Cow Fart Tax Would Be Disastrous

January 12, 2009

Newburyport, MA (The Daily News Online) -- If the government doesn't stop harassing farmers, Americans will soon be buying their milk and meat exclusively from China and oversees markets, say a number of local farmers.

In response to the Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed idea to tax cattle for polluting the air with their "gaseous emissions," Kathy Herrick (Herrick Dairy Farm, Rowley), Stanley Pikul (Pikul Dairy Farm, Rowley) and Matt Kozazcki (Tendercrop Farm, Newbury) say small farms have enough challenges already.

One year ago dairy farmers Kathy and Sam Herrick were battling passage of a town Health Department bylaw that threatened to regulate refuse from their livestock, which officials said would guard against possible contamination of the groundwater. The Herricks and other Rowley animal owners won that battle, only to face a new challenge in the new year an idea floated by the EPA to tax livestock to the tune of about $175 an animal in an effort to clean the air of greenhouse gas emissions.

It's the EPA's contention that a proportionately large percentage of greenhouse gas emissions actually come from cows and farm animals. So in a recently released Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking letter, EPA asserted its right and intention to charge those animal owners to help pay to reverse the damage. The New York Farm Bureau tallied up how much the proposed regulation could end up costing American farmers, and came up with a tax of roughly $175 a dairy cow, $87.50 for beef cattle and $20 for a hog.

Herrick said a tax that steep would wipe them off the map and would likely be the last straw for a number of farmers already hanging from the bottom rung of the economic ladder as they've been for the past two years.

"It will be devastation," said Herrick. "You're going to shut down most of your farms. Where are we going to get $20,000 to pay a tax? We're not even able to pay our bills right now."

Sam Herrick's family farm has been operating in Rowley for generations, but through the years Kathy says she's seen farm after farm close down around them. Only 159 exist in the state today, and though Herrick is determined to continue with her husband in the family tradition, she gets emotional when talk turns to yet another steep challenge facing them.

Dairy farms like theirs have been struggling for two years to turn a profit on the milk they produce, but due to the set price of milk and increased production costs, they've sought government relief to stay alive. A tax credit being pushed on their behalf might bring some relief if passed this year, but will it come too late? And even if it passes, Herrick wonders if new threats like the EPA gas tax will just crop up in its place.

"I just went back to my nursing job," said Herrick. "I had no choice. I can't work enough hours to pay for things. Nobody can. How much do we have to be punished?"

Rowley neighbor Pikul, who has been working his dairy and soybean farm on Route 1A his whole life, termed the proposal to tax his already burdened profession as short- sighted, to say the least.

"They're crazy," he said, agreeing it would mean the end for New England farmers like him.

The Pikuls and Herricks are the last two working farms left in the once thriving agrarian town of Rowley, and Pikul wonders why nobody cares about that. A technology- driven society still ultimately depends on food for survival, after all.

"Eventually I don't think they're going to have anything left to eat," said Pikul. "Every state should produce as much food as they can, because in the future if something happens in some other state where we're getting our food from, where are we going to get our food?"

Pikul was rankled to note the state Legislature recently got a 5 percent pay raise. After two years struggling to get a fair price for the milk nearly all Americans depend on, he can't fathom how the importance of his profession has been forgotten.

"The farmers are the lowest paid people, and not everybody can be a farmer," said Pikul. "The hours are too long and the work is too hard. You see all these raises in the legislatures everybody's getting raises, and their salaries are set. The farmers should be getting paid a certain salary for being a farmer."

Tendercrop Farm owner Kozazcki chuckles at the bitter irony of another proposed tax on farmers like him, adding a tax like the one EPA proposes would likely be the end of farms and livestock in America altogether.

"It's a good way to get rid of farms," Kozazcki quips, stressing that beef cattle farms won't fare much better under the new regulation than the dairy farmers, who he says can't take another cut to their bottom line.

"(Dairy farms) are losing money now," said Kozazcki. "It's sad. They can't take any more tax.

"If they charge $175 a cow, you won't have any more cows in this country," he added. "There wouldn't be any cows on my farm. It would be all over for me."

Kozazcki said a regulation like that one would mark the end for American farms once and for all even the larger farms out west that make their living with beef cattle would be challenged to pay the steep fee.

"They'd be closing the farms like crazy," said Kozazcki. "The beef farms in the west, they're lucky if they make $50 a cow. They couldn't pay that."

Herrick said the worst part of these economic hard times is that she doesn't think people realize once a farm is gone, it's gone for good. She notes the infrastructure farming helps support is vast and there are many jobs created by the agricultural industry in America. If the farmer isn't farming, how do we find jobs for the food processors, the grain and feed and supply merchants, the veterinarians and the many other workers that depend on the harvest?

"People don't think about where their food comes from," said Herrick. "We need to support ourselves and our own country.

"Once a farm is gone it's gone forever; it doesn't come back," said Herrick. "I've seen thousands of farms go. You just sit and cry."