The state Agriculture Department is considering a request to triple the number of cows permitted on a Vale area farm, ahead of plans for a new dairy operation. (The Enterprise/PAT CALDWELL)

VALE – A farm west of Vale could be converted into one of the largest dairy operations in Oregon under a plan pending at the state Agriculture Department that would allow nearly 10,000 cows on their property,

The Recla Dairy, at Recla Drive off of U.S. Highway 20 about six miles west of Vale, already holds a state permit for a confined feeding operation – or CAFO – for 3,200 animals.

The dairy at the farm stopped operating in 2003 and is for sale for $8.9 million.

Steve and Bob Recla, current owners of the dairy, seek an amendment to their waste management plan to boost the number of animals to 9,000. The state permit regulates the amount of manure, litter and wastewater generated by a dairy.

A 2020 state CAFO permit showed the farm managed 1,200 beef cattle.

Rae Anderson, a real estate broker for Agrilands Real Estate of Baker City, said the sale of the farm is pending. He declined to disclose specific details of the pending sale but said the buyer is a “dairyman from Washington.”

Anderson said the potential buyer plans to install modern milking infrastructure to restart the dairy.

Anderson said the facility will “be a big dairy.”

“It will end up being one of the top five in terms of size in Oregon,” said Anderson.

Anderson said if the sale goes through it will help Malheur County’s economy.

“You bring in a dairy like that, it will require quite a few employees and they have to have a place to live,” said Anderson.

Steve Recla didn’t return phone calls or emails seeking comment.

If the state Agriculture Department upgrades the waste management plan, the dairy will be allowed to produce more than 2.2 million cubic feet of manure and 2,210,185 cubic feet of manure liquids per year. Most of the waste will be applied to the land, according to the Agriculture Department.

The plan submitted to the state maps out a multi-year project to expand the dairy operation.

The plan describes expanding the milking facilities and adding settling ponds and lagoons while also developing an area where manure can be composted for recycling.

An area will also be developed for feed processing, commodity and silage storage.

The first phase of the expansion will include “using current facilities how they are currently laid out to handle 650 milking cows in accordance with the current CAFO permit,” according to the dairy’s nutrient management plan.

The second phase goal will be to start construction next summer of new stalls and push the number of milking cows to 2,000. Also, part of the second phase will be adding a wastewater lagoon and “a slight remodel” of the milking parlor.

According to the dairy’s nutrient management plan, the facility consists of more than 950 acres that includes pasture and hay, farm houses and shops, just over 600 acres of irrigated crops and 205 acres of dryland pasture. The dairy produces alfalfa, triticale, corn for silage, small grains and grass hay.

Andrea Cantu-Schomus, director of communications for the state Agriculture Department, said in an email to the Enterprise that if the property is sold, the new owners must apply to the state to assume control of the existing CAFO permit.

The Agriculture Department seeks written comments on the proposed change. A virtual hearing has been scheduled on the proposal for Oct. 29 at 2 p.m. Pacific Time. Individuals can join the meeting by going online to https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/349229389.

Residents can also send comments to the state Department of Agriculture via email to [email protected]

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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