Farmer’s frustrated with rules, but says he’s not closing

SILVANA — Jim Sinnema said his popular raw-milk dairy farm is not closing — yet — contrary to a recent posting on his Facebook page.

But Sinnema, owner of the Old Silvana Creamery, said he’s frustrated with state regulations, mostly related to water quality. He said he doesn’t have the money, time or staff to comply with the rules in question.

Nor does he have the inclination.

“Even if I had a million dollars in the bank, I’m not going to be forced to implement changes on my farm that I don’t think are necessary,” Sinnema said.

On Saturday, the following appeared on the farm’s Facebook page: “WSDA (Washington State Department of Agriculture) and the Snohomish County Conservation District will be forcing Old Silvana Creamery, LLC to close.”

Sinnema said he’s invested $100,000 in his 2-year-old business and doesn’t want to close. But he believes his refusal to comply with regulations could prompt the state to shut down his farm.

That’s not going to happen, at least not for water-quality violations, according to officials of the state Department of Agriculture.

The worst that can happen to a dairy farm for failure to comply with regulations are civil penalties — ranging from $100 to $10,000, depending on the type and severity of the offense, said Chery Sullivan, a compliance specialist in the Agriculture Department’s Dairy Nutrient Management Program.

Violations related to food safety or animals could prompt the state to close a farm, but those aren’t an issue in Sinnema’s case, said Hector Castro, a spokesman for the department.

As for water-quality enforcement, several layers of warnings and notices are given before it gets to the civil penalty stage, Sullivan said. That rarely happens, she said. More than 95 percent of dairy farms comply with the rules once they receive a notice or warning.

“Overall, we have an excellent compliance rate with recordkeeping,” she said.

Agriculture officials have made one visit to the Old Silvana Creamery as part of the routine inspection process, Castro said.

“That inspection is not complete, but we hope to continue working with the dairy owner to complete the inspection,” he said.

Sinnema said he’s being asked to take soil samples on his 20-acre farm and send them to a lab for analysis, to keep records when manure is applied to soil and to pump out a lagoon — a holding pond into which manure-filled water is directed.

If the lagoon is full and needs pumping, “Why do we need a bureaurcrat to come out and tell us?” Sinnema said. “To me it’s just a layer of bureaucracy.”

Sinnema said he’s also being asked to capture rainwater from his roofs.

“I realize that’s a lot,” Sullivan said. “The main point of the recordkeeping rule is to show that all the nutrients are being handled in an agronomic way, meaning the producer has enough land to accommodate the manure that his cows are producing.”

Sullivan said the rules are based on state laws set up to implement the federal Clean Water Act.

Recordkeeping doesn’t need to be complicated — some farmers jot notes on calendars, Castro said.

“It’s not just for us, but they’re also for the producer” to use in responding to any allegations, Sullivan said.

Sinnema said he hasn’t heard any complaints from his neighbors, but if someone does complain, he’s ready to respond. If runoff from his farm was a problem, “then you come after me through due process of law and bring me to court and we’ll deal with it in court, the way it’s supposed to be in this country,” he said.

Dairy farms have been cited as sources of pollutants that can damage salmon habitat.

In 2010 near Snohomish, 27 million gallons of manure-laden water spilled from a lagoon at the Bartelheimer Brothers dairy farm into French Slough, an arm of the Snohomish River. That farm was much larger than Sinnema’s, with 750 milking cows, compared to 20 at the Old Silvana Creamery.

No dead fish were found in French Slough, but it took 17 days after the spill for the slough to meet state water-quality standards and four days for the river. State and federal agencies later determined that an oversight by a federal agency, not the farm, led to the break.

Staff with the Snohomish Conservation District also visited Sinnema’s farm recently, director Monte Marti said.

The Lake Stevens-based district provides advice to farmers and other property owners on how to meet regulations and make their land more environmentally friendly. The district has no enforcement power.

The district, Snohomish County, and the state and federal governments all have programs available under which farmers may apply for financial help to comply with rules, Marti said.

There are about 25 dairy farms in Snohomish County and Camano Island and many of them take advantage of the financial help, he said.

Sinnema said he’s not interested.

“I don’t feel it’s right to take taxpayers’ money to improve a private business,” he said. “People need to stand upon their principles and own conscience and say, ‘Forget it.’”

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