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Controversial mega-dairy and farm under fresh scrutiny by Oregon officials

This photo from a Oregon Department of Agriculture report shows water runoff on a field. Runoff events, along with fertilizer leaks, have incurred fines for Easterday Dairy.
Courtesy of Oregon Department of Agriculture.
This photo from a Oregon Department of Agriculture report shows water runoff on a field. Runoff events, along with fertilizer leaks, have incurred fines for Easterday Dairy.

The Easterday Dairy near Boardman, Oregon doesn't have an easy history. Once called Lost Valley, its former owner was embroiled in fines, bankruptcy, litigation over animal treatment, and environmental violations from the state. Now, with Cody Easterday’s sons in charge, new violations have been racking up.

Currently, there are no animals on site, but Easterday Dairy has been managing the property. And on April 13, more than 60 infractions were handed down in a notice of noncompliance from Oregon’s Department of Agriculture.

The new violations come as the Easterday Dairy is hoping to get licensed to bring on thousands of fresh cattle – and as the state legislature is considering whether such a large milking operation should even be allowed in Oregon. Easterday Dairy has a pending Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation or CAFO permit application for 28,300 cattle in Oregon.

A Google image shows Easterday Dairy and some of the surrounding crop land.
Google image.
A Google image shows Easterday Dairy and some of the surrounding crop land.

The history

The former owner of the massive Lost Valley Farm, Greg te Valde, had major environmental problems with his operation and admitted to having drug and gambling issues.

Federal prosecutors stepped in during the bankruptcy negotiations. Then, in 2019, the Easterdays bought one of the two main parcels.

Cody Easterday was sentenced to a federal penitentiary in California for 11 years for swindling Tyson Fresh Meats out of millions of dollars of made-up cattle.

The ODA report shows the Easterday Dairy – which is now run by Cody’s eldest son, Cole – has dozens of environmental violations because of fertilizer spills and water runoff events from irrigation pivots, including one that lasted more than a week. Many of these incidents were self reported.

On August 11, 2022, Easterday Dairy failed monitoring requirements by allowing fertilizer to escape from a damaged or leaking storage tank, ODA said in its report. Because of those leaks, undiluted nitrogen drained into the soil in areas where it could contaminate the groundwater. In another leak, undiluted nitrogen dripped out in high enough concentrations to kill corn plants in part of a pivot system on the farm.

The farm had already been embroiled in lawsuits.

The Easterdays say the dairy and adjacent farmland are separate parcels, managed by separate companies: the 736-acre Easterday Dairy, and the adjacent 6,542-acre Canyon Farm II. To function properly, both need to operate in concert. The dairy’s effluent had been used as fertilizer on the crops grown nearby.

But the owners and managers of the two operations reportedly had a falling out, with a judge even issuing restraining orders.

A legal hot potato

Now, Easterday Dairy maintains that it’s not responsible for the land that’s been polluted.

The dairy is not yet licensed for large headcounts of livestock, and the family argues that the pollution is coming from Canyon Farm II – the major crop side of the operation. That ground is being farmed by another operator who is renting the property.

The Easterdays involved with the dairy declined an interview request, but they sent a written statement through a spokesperson.

“Easterday Dairy LLC has determined that none of the alleged violations listed in the [notice of noncompliance] are for activities or events that occurred on the property it owned and operated,” they said in the statement.

“There have been no animals on the Easterday Dairy property since March 2019 and no animal waste has been applied to the properties owned by Easterday Dairy, LLC or Canyon Farm II, LLC since the permit transferred from Greg [te] Velde to Easterday Dairy, LLC in April 2020.”

Fall Line Capital, which manages Canyon Farm II, declined to comment, citing “ongoing legal actions.”

Oregon’s Department of Agriculture has responded that the Easterday Dairy is the permit holder and therefore responsible. So far, the agency hasn’t issued any fines in the case.

“Easterday Dairy LLC is in an initial part of the compliance process that may or may not result in a civil penalty as ODA continues to enforce the permit,” said Andrea Cantu-Schomus, a press officer for the department.

Environmental watchdogs respond

Environmental groups have fought against these types of large dairies in Oregon for years. Food & Water Watch, a national group with a major presence in the Northwest, takes issue with the fact that no fines have been issued so far.

“Like the disastrous Lost Valley Farm before it, Easterday Dairy is a demonstrated threat to public health and the environment — even without a single animal on site,” said Portland-based Tarah Heinzen, the group’s legal director, in a press release. “But once again, ODA has issued a slap on the wrist when it should have denied the mega-dairy permit once and for all. ODA’s failure to hold factory farms accountable is failing Oregonians.”

Morrow County in Oregon has had trouble with nitrates in the ground water for decades, like many ag-heavy places in the country. Now there is free well testing by the Oregon Health Authority and the county, along with Umatilla County, for households that need it.

Nitrate in drinking water from wells commonly comes from several sources, including crop fertilizer, manure, wastewater and septic systems, said Laura Gleim, a spokesperson with the state Department of Environmental Quality.

If approved by ODA, Easterday would be one of the largest dairies in the country. Meanwhile, the state legislature is considering several bills – including SB 85 and SB 398 – that could curtail this type of operation in Oregon.

Copyright 2023 Northwest News Network. To see more, visit Northwest News Network.

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.