Sunday, January 28, 2001

Dutch mega-farms worry Ohio's small farmers

The Associated Press

        ANTWERP, Ohio — Ohio's farmland has become hot real estate for Dutch farmers who find land prices and government tariffs too high in their native country.

        Many made huge profits by selling their farms in the Netherlands and moving to the cheaper fields of Ohio to open modern megadairies.

        Their arrival has made life difficult for some of the state's smaller farms.

        Ed Luersman, 74, said the large farms started by the Dutch threaten his business. Mr. Luersman has been getting up with his 33 cows at 2:30 a.m. for more than 50 years.

        His 90-acre farm in Fort Jennings is about 25 miles from Leo Zylstra's farm of 500 cows in Antwerp. Mr. Zylstra moved from the Netherlands less than a year ago.

        “How do we compete with something that size?” Mr. Luersman asked. “The price of milk is so low that we lose money every day. But the Dutchmen make money because they have so many cows and such modern equipment. They are keeping the price of milk down for the rest of us. I'm afraid this could mean the end of the family farmer in Ohio.”

        For 20 years, Mr. Zylstra was a dairy farmer in Holland and spent his days taking care of the 70 cows on his 100 acres.

        “In the Netherlands, it was hard to make it,” he said. “Everything was more expensive: land, food for the animals. The government had a quota system.”

        An acre of land in the Netherlands, with its 16,033 square miles (less than half the size of Ohio), can sell for as much as $20,000. In northwest Ohio, an acre costs about $2,000.

        Like many of his countrymen, Mr. Zylstra learned of the economic opportunities in Ohio from the Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development Corp. of Hudson, Mich.

        It has set up or assisted 37 Dutch farmers in building dairies in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana. Co-founder Cecilia Vander Hoff Conway said there were three so-called “Dutch dairies” operating in Ohio, two in Paulding County and one in Defiance County.

        Four megafarms are under construction in Ohio — two in Putnam County, one in Hardin County near Kenton and one in Williams County near Bryan. Ms. Conway said another four megafarms are planned for south-central and northwest Ohio.


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