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Impacts of Measure J likely to be far reaching, even without consensus on just how far

photo credit: Darla Schoenrock/flickr

Written by Noah Abrams

Published: 29 May 2024

Supporters and opponents of Measure J, the contentious effort to ban so-called “factory farming” in Sonoma County, are redoubling efforts as the clock ticks down to November.

A pair of recently released reports dig into the potential economic implications of the ballot measure.

What Measure J would do concretely concerns CAFO’s, frequently referred to as factory farms or feedlots.

Kristina Garfinkel explained what exactly a CAFO is.

"Concentrated animal feeding operations shortly known as CAFO's, is an EPA definition that designates a facility as a major water polluter," Garfinkel said. "So this, for example, would be a dairy facility that has 700 or more mature dairy cattle or a facility that's raising chicken for meat that has over 125,000 chickens."

Garfinkel is a campaigner for Measure J with the Coalition to End Factory Farming.

Proponents of Measure J, feel the ban would have a wide variety of benefits.

Some, like Garfinkel, hope to push back against industrial practices they see as inhumane.

Others, like Sebastopol’s Don Lipmanson, feel Measure J would open up the market for smaller ranches and poultry farms that are more likely to practice good land stewardship and humane care for animals.

"I have a great deal of respect for backyard farmers, gardeners, ranchers, people who do animal agriculture in Sonoma County," Lipmanson, an attorney and environmentalist, said. "It's really a question of how it's done."

But that's not exactly how the reports predict Measure J would play out.

Jon Haveman said some effects would be inevitable.

"If the initiative were to pass then, one of the costs of the initiative, would be loss of jobs, loss of revenue, loss of local income," Haveman, an economic analyst at Marin Economic Consulting, said.

Haveman said a more detailed analysis would be helpful, but as of now, forecasts of what would happen should Measure J be approved comes courtesy of two reports.

"The report[s] however looks at basically the elimination of all animal farming in Sonoma County," Haveman noted.

One comes from Sonoma County’s Economic Development Board, EDB for short, and the other from Chico State’s Agribusiness Institute via the University of California Cooperative Extension, abbreviated as UCCE.

The EDB report estimates 60 businesses would be forced to shrink operations, mostly dairies, but some chicken and duck farms as well.

The report also claims such reductions are insurmountable given the standard business models in the cattle and poultry industries.

Haveman disagreed with that conclusion, saying disruption wouldn't be on such a large scale.

"So really what we're talking about is the removal of something like 11 to 21 farms from Sonoma County," Haveman said.

Measure J proponents like Lewis Bernier say the law would protect Sonoma County's environment against some of the worst polluters. Bernier singled out one Petaluma duck farm in particular.

"Waste like these ducks and the manure that they produce is a serious hazard to the local environment," Bernier said at a recent virtual press conference. "They recently settled a Clean Water Act violation lawsuit because of serious pollution to the local watershed."

In 2023, Reichardt Duck Farm agreed to implement a series of management and reporting plans at their facility, including, storm water, nutrient, and waste management plans, following a lawsuit by the group Californians for Alternatives to Toxics.

But Measure J opponents see the effort as a way to eliminate a century-old industry under the guise of environmental protection.

Also potentially at risk is Sonoma County’s organic dairy industry. Most would fall under the measure due to the number of cows on each farm.

The county’s 42 organic dairies represent 40% of the organic dairies in California, and produce more than a tenth of all organic milk nationwide, much of which goes to renowned brands like Straus, Clover, Horizon, and Organic Valley.

The vast majority of dairy cattle in the county reside on 38 of 50 dairies UCCE identified. The UCCE report says Measure J could restrict operations at nearly all of them.

In terms of the local economy, passing Measure J could have major impact.

The UCCE report estimates animal agriculture in Sonoma County generates $225 million in direct business output from milk, eggs, and other animal products.

The report asserts nearly $260 million would disappear from the county's economy should all livestock and poultry production be lost.

With indirect losses in adjoining businesses like farm supply, veterinary services, and secondary processing like cheesemaking factored in, losses in output are forecast to rise above 400 million.

More than 1,300 jobs, which generate $80 million in labor income, could potentially be lost as well, half at directly affected businesses, and half at related ones.


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