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Cuomo in Billion-Pound Manure Fight as New York Promotes Yogurt

August 26, 2013

The lawsuit protests the governor's recent permit allowing more dairy cows in the wake of growing yogurt demand.

Freeman Klopott

All that stands between dairy farmer Kerry Adams and expanding her herd of cows to tap New York’s booming yogurt industry is 1 billion pounds of manure.

Adams was planning to take advantage of a change Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through this year that allows farmers to increase their herds to 299 from 199 before permits are required, which can add more than $150,000 to expansion costs. Then environmental groups sued to block the move, saying expanding dairy production will add 1 billion pounds (454 million kilograms) of unregulated cow dung annually, damaging waterways.

"It’s frustrating," said Adams, who is keeping her herd at 195 while she awaits the lawsuit’s outcome. "As farmers, we’re very conscious of being stewards of the land."

Led by Greek-style yogurt and its biggest U.S. maker, New Berlin, New York-based Chobani Inc., producers of the fermented milk product have added more than 1,300 jobs upstate since 2007. Cuomo, 55, a first-term Democrat heading into an election year, says yogurt is a key to boosting the region’s struggling economy.

New York is a natural home for companies seeking to cash in on the Greek yogurt craze, said Andrew Novakovic, a Cornell University professor who studies the agricultural economy. It’s the third-largest milk-producing state, providing access to the 50 million people who live between Boston and Washington.

Local Windfall

As state yogurt production climbed to 695 million pounds in 2012 from 267 million in 2009, the New York dairy industry hasn’t grown as rapidly, according to Novakovic. Greek yogurt has three times more milk than the traditional product, Novakovic said. The companies can pipe milk in from other states, though that doesn’t help New York’s farmers, he said.

"All of our milk comes from the Northeast, and the majority is from New York," said Russell Evans, marketing director for Johnstown, New York-based Fage USA Dairy Industry Inc., which is spending $100 million to double its yogurt-making capacity. "It was a natural extension for us to move upstate to where there is a ready supply of milk and a strong transportation network."

As in some other states, milk prices in New York are set by federal regulators. Even with increased demand from yogurt producers, prices aren’t rising, according to Novakovic and the New York Farm Bureau. To increase profits, farmers need to produce more milk, which means adding cows.

Not Cheap

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