State Loses Nelson Farms Case

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A judge has handed a legal victory to a Northeast Kingdom dairy farmer in his fight with the state Department of Agriculture.

The state went to court to force farmer Doug Nelson to get a permit for his large dairy operation. The state also wanted to fine Nelson $65,000 for not getting his permit on time. A judge recently dismissed the state’s case.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

The Nelson case was the first time the state went to court to force a farmer to comply with the 1996 large farm law. The law requires farmers to go through a state review process if they have more than 674 cows.

The law was designed to protect water quality. Before the large farms get a permit, they are often required to install manure pits or other systems to handle animal waste.

The state wanted to fine Nelson because he failed to apply for the permit when the state asked him to in 1999. But Judge John Meaker ruled that Nelson had tried to follow the state’s request. Gregory Howe is Nelson’s lawyer:

(Howe) “Nelson Farms spent well in excess of $100,000 not to change anything, but just to go through the permit application process – but to show that the existing farm was in compliance with all the rules and regulations. I think the judge was persuaded that Nelson Farms not only had complied with the letter of the law, but also had complied with the spirit of the law.”

Doug Nelson’s farm is one of the largest in the state. His Irasburg operation has more than 1,000 cows.

Even though the state lost in its attempt to fine Nelson, Assistant Attorney General Michael Duane says he’s satisfied with the outcome:

(Duane) “From the very beginning, the department’s position was to get Mr. Nelson to apply for an LFO permit, a large farm operation permit for his Irasburg farm. And this process began back in 1999. And fortunately, in December of this year, and on into January of 2002, Mr. Nelson did file for an LFO permit. So we were pleased with that result.”

About 20 farms around the state have gone through the permit process.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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