Andrew Wimer
Andrew Wimer · March 21, 2024

PORTLAND, Ore.—The Oregon Department of Agriculture informed small dairy farmers that it has withdrawn a policy that would have subjected farms milking only a handful of animals to expensive regulations designed for massive dairies. However, since the withdrawal is only temporary and the department is not conceding that it lacked the power to enforce the new requirements, a lawsuit filed by four dairies represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ) will continue in federal court.

“I’m glad that the lawsuit will continue so we can ensure that the government doesn’t tie us up in needless red tape in the future,” said Sarah King, owner of Godspeed Hollow, a three-cow dairy in Newberg, Oregon. “It will never make sense to treat a tiny dairy like mine the same as a large dairy with hundreds of cows.”

Oregon, like many states, has requirements for dairies that operate CAFOs, confined animal feeding operations. Last year, at the prompting of large dairies, the department demanded that small dairies install expensive and complicated drainage and holding systems. Under the newly reinterpreted regulations, to continue milking, Sarah would need to install a wastewater infrastructure and a holding tank, keep daily records, and pay annual permit fees. This could add up to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. And all of it, according to the state, to supposedly manage wastewater that farms like Sarah’s don’t really produce. The state was set to begin enforcement on April 1 before announcing its about-face in the wake of IJ’s lawsuit.

“While we are pleased that the Department of Agriculture has decided to hold off on enforcing these regulations through the course of the litigation, we are continuing the fight to ensure that small dairies have the freedom to continue operating free of needless regulations,” said IJ Attorney Bobbi Taylor. “Treating small dairies like Sarah’s as though they are hundreds of times bigger is more than just bad policy. It is unconstitutional.”

The Department of Agriculture told Sarah that milking her cows in the barn meets the definition of a CAFO—simply because the cows are “confined” for a few minutes during milking. Why the change? According to the agency’s own communications, it “received concerns from the Oregon dairy industry” that small dairies, who are exempt from the state’s Grade A Milk requirements, should nonetheless be required to obtain CAFO permits. The agency further stated that the small dairies enjoyed an “unfair competitive advantage” by not being subject to the requirements.

“The government cannot crush small producers because its industry pals ask them to,” said IJ Senior Attorney Ari Bargil. “Economic protectionism is flatly unconstitutional and our lawsuit will continue on until the courts acknowledge precisely that.”

Joining Sarah in the lawsuit are other small dairies milking cows and goats. Christine Anderson also milks two cows at her farm in McMinnville. Waneva LaVelle and Melissa Derfler each milk goats at their farms respectively in Hubbard and Grants Pass.