Relocation or expansion by California dairy producers has slowed significantly in the last year or so. And it’s not due to milk prices or disinterest in the industry.

Instead, producers and county governments — especially throughout the San Joaquin Valley — are wary of legal roadblocks erected by the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE). The group has challenged dairy plans in counties like Kings, Merced, Tulare and Madera, grinding expansions to a halt with court tie-ups and environmental impact report (EIR) requirements.

For example, a Merced County deputy planning director says 11 projects are on hold representing 40,000 animals and Tulare County reports 79 dairy applications await approval.

Authorities in Kings County confirm producers there are scrapping plans for new or expanded dairies, too.

Frustrated officials claim nothing seems to satisfy CRPE, which takes issue with what it calls “mega” dairies. The organization swings the California Environmental Quality Act like a club, overwhelming producers, county offices and court rooms with demands for expensive, time-consuming EIRs. Additionally, after the report is issued, CRPE normally disputes the recommendations listed. The county in turn, is required by law to answer and address every public complaint, which prevents parties from proceeding with their plans.

Several counties are working to write countywide EIRs, specifically addressing dairy concerns and eliminating the need for individual dairies to get a full EIR. But, court challenges await these pro-active attempts, too. Each county that has drafted a broad EIR plan is currently planning re-writes due to CRPE lawsuits, in spite of the fact that most county planners feel positively about dairy expansion in their area.

Meanwhile residents and producers feel the economic ramifications, as operations mired in legalese aren’t able to add cows or staff.

And dairy interests are concerned that these attacks will set a precedent for the rest of agriculture. There’s really nothing to stop them, warns a Merced, Calif. attorney. The group has sued every proposed dairy project in an eight-county area.

California Farm Bureau Federation