A dairy is proposed north of Sunizona with
7500 to 15,000 or more cows on 640 acres. The request is not for a
special use permit for a dairy, but for rezoning which would allow not
just a dairy but other uses too, such as Heavy Industry.
I. The public response to this issue appears to be having an effect.
A March 30 email from an opponent of the proposed dairy says "Ratliff did not file his application for the
special use permit by Friday's deadline (which would have made the May
commissioners' meeting the hearing date). Therefore, the hearing will
not come before June 10 at this point. The next deadline for filing special use permits to be heard at the
June meeting is April 24.... [S]omeone at the commission office
this morning ... said that they are 'still waiting for Ratliff to
draft a new citizen notification letter.' "
II. Basic information
The proponents are Mr. & Mrs. Alvin "Buddy" Ratliff. For their basic proposal, see
Here are links to some maps with different kinds of information about water in the Willcox Basin:
-- and also for the Douglas Basin, south of the Willcox Basin:
An email points out that Wikipedia has a fine set of articles about
dairy farming, a good place to start, with many further references
about the operation and hazards of dairies, being
III. The public response
The first organized response to the proposal for rezoning came on
Tuesday, March 3, when the Ash Creek Association held a community
dinner and meeting in the Sunizona community building. (There
have been other meetings since, following up on the themes expressed in
The hall was filled. Dr. Bob Collier was the first speaker, and got
through a good deal of his material about dairying in general. He was
followed by Mark Apel, who used a couple of minutes to get the meeting
ready for Buddy Ratliff. Third District county supervisor Richard
Searle jumped in from time to time. Activist attendees included Julia
Robinson (prime mover behind the "No On Smith Ranch" referendum that
reversed the supervisors' unanimous vote in favor of a huge housing
tract near Benson not long ago), Liz Shuler-Pointer, Carmen Myrick, and
Audience participation was quite vigorous, much more against the
proposed dairy than for it. Major reasons included the effect on the
water table, and the stink and flies from a large dairy operation. The
Faria Dairy feed lot was used, time after time, as a bad example of a
(BACKGROUND ON THE FARIA DAIRY: Sebastiao Faria, one of that dairy's
operators, said that supervisor Searle gave him an oral go-ahead to put
in a feedlot; whatever Searle told Faria, Faria put in the feed lot
without asking for official permission; a lawsuit resulted; on the main
issue, Faria lost; both Faria and the county appealed parts of the
trial result; the appeals court dismissed the county's own appeal; the
written arguments on Faria's appeal have not been completed, and the
oral argument (the climax of any appeal) has not yet been given a
date. Meanwhile, nearby residents continue to complain that while the
case drags on, the stink and flies from the Faria dairy are
IV. The issues raised are discussed below. First comes a report on
the meeting, then a discussion based on emails from the proponents and
others. Thanks to all the emailers for their information, on either
(This paragraph is based on Mr. Ratliff's statements at the meeting and also on a separate email from him later.)
Mr. Ratliff has nine 160-acre fields with center pivot irrigation.
For 20 or more years, they have been producing crops that are exported
to processing plants, dairies, and feedlots in Casa Grande, the Phoenix
area, and New Mexico. He would stop irrigating one 160-acre plot and
place the dairy on it; the remaining eight 160-acre fields would
produce feed for the dairy, so their water would no longer be exported
out of the valley. The dairy would also take some crops from other
farms in the valley, keeping their water here too.
In an email dated March 6, Mr. Ratliff stated that the solids from the lagoon will be composted (processed) and then spread on the farms in the area. The Lagoon water will be distributed to 3 center
Mr. Ratliff gives
figures for the water percentage of various crops: corn grain 15%;
corn silage 65%; alfalfa hay 18%, alfalfa silage 65%, chili 8-9%, wheat
13%, milo 15%, beans 15%, watermelons 95%. Comment: A dairy with
7500 wet and 7500 dry cows would use about 1/3 less water than pivot
irrigation on the same 160 acres -- here's a link for how to figure
cows' water consumption:
so the dairy might result in less water use, depending on the crops
planted on the other eight 160-acre plots. However, the water used by
this acreage, with or without a dairy on part of it, is a significant
part of total water use in the Willcox Basin. The only way to
significantly reduce its effect on water use would be to take it out of
farming of any kind.
From an email: Using Bovine Growth Hormone on the cows would greatly
increase their water consumption, so a dairy might well cause an
increase, not a net decrease, in water consumption on the 160 acres.
From an email: What kind of feed would Ratliff grow? Alfalfa takes a
lot of water to grow. Comment: The net effect of the dairy on water
consumption depends on what Ratliff grows on the other 160-acre parcels.
From an email: Here's a website with info about pollution from dairy farms:
Here's an article about the risks of dairy runoff fostering bacteria
and concentrating antibiotics, and their effect on people and plants,
including corn, which the Ratliffs grow.
From emails: One person asks If, and another person says Yes, the pivot irrigators are used for manure.
From emails: There's abundant water back east; why not go there to
start a dairy. Even so, here's a link to a controversial dairy
proposal in Wisconsin, where nature is much more generous:
From an email: The water level in wells in the area is already
dropping. Comment: Yes, and the Sierra Vista-centered county
supervisors have been ignoring this real problem in the Sulphur Springs
B. Stink, flies, and dust
At the meeting, Mr. Ratliff did not seem as upset by the Faria dairy as
many citizens were, and he said there were effective ways to solve the
stink and fly problem, which he would use -- or at least that he would
use them if they were cost effective. However, many people spoke up
and said that Faria had made the same promises. People spoke up about
being bothered by the Faria stink as much as 14 miles away; and people
who were closer often found being outside their homes to be absolutely
intolerable. One neighbor said that when the feedlot was cleaned in
the wee hours, the sudden odor woke her up and made her "levitate" out
of bed. Mr. Ratliff stated that having the dairy would reduce truck
usage to his land.
From an email: "From the aerial maps it does not look like there is
much density in that area. So for their side, should not have a
negative environmental impact on the community." Comment: the
immediate area is lightly populated, but when the wind carries odor for
miles, more than just the immediate neighbor must be considered.
From an email: Near Maricopa, dairies have ruined the area. You
awaken to the smell of feces, and on calm days dust from feces is part
of the cloud that can cover the valley. Despite this, Searle has said
he favors dairies. Comment: Searle has a record of favoring dairies,
even recklessly as in the Faria case, but public opinion may affect him.
From an email: More details are necessary on truck usage.
At the meeting, Mr. Ratliff promised 40 to 45 good-paying jobs.
Questions were asked about who would get the jobs -- locals, or day
laborers from Mexico?
From an email: Providing jobs would be a strong point of the proposal, since unemployment in the area is so high.
From an email: Some people believe the Faria dairy is running entirely
on green-card labor from Mexico; how could Ratliff compete with that if
he paid a living wage to local citizens?
D. Compliance with a permit if granted
At the meeting, when pressed to pledge to county government (if the
application got that far) that he would adopt the effective solutions
and guarantee that the jobs would go to local boys (and local girls
too!), and that if he were found to violate those pledges then he would
shut down the operation, Mr. Ratliff was not 100% on the issue -- he
vacillated between promising absolutely effective solutions for flies
and odors, and promising such solutions as were cost-effective -- but
Mrs. Ratliff appeared to be 100% willing to give such pledges, if the
However, such pledges might be useless. Mr.
mentioned his family's three generations of farming in Cochise County,
but he also mentioned that his plans allowed for his selling a part
interest in the dairy, then managing the operation. Based on
email from Mr. Ratliff dated March 6, a "possible range" for ownership
by outside investors "could be" either up to 45% or up to 55%; the
emails aren't clear.
The possibility of
Ratliff's obtaining a dairy permit, then transferring it to parties not
yet identified, is somewhat troubling. Successor owners would
certainly not feel bound by any personal pledge of the Ratliffs.
Mr. Ratliff repeated several times that the dairy would be a $25-30
million dollar operation. But he also kept saying that the dairy
business is unprofitable right now. A citizen asked Ratliff why, if
the dairy business was so bad, he wanted to risk his three-generation
family farm by getting into it. Ratliff answered that he thought that
the dairy business was on short cycles, much shorter than the economy
in general, and that he thought the dairy business would recover by the
time this deal was ready. Ratliff did not, however, say why he thought
it would be wise to risk the family farm on a business which, if it
recovered from current business conditions quickly, would also decline
again quickly after that.
From an email: The family farm may be having spotty income.
Information about recent USDA subsidies to the Ratliff farm, or at
least that part of it operating as Ratliff AG Enterprises LLC, is
That page reports on USDA subsidies from 1995 through 2006. In those
years, the farm never received any conservation subsidies. In five of
the years starting in 2000, the farm received about $49,000 in disaster
subsidies. In 1999 through 2006, the farm got commodity subsidies
every year, totalling about $214,000: about $178,000 for corn, $26,000
for sorghum, and $10,000 for cotton. Comment: It might be difficult
to keep the land in farm use.
From an email: It does not appear that the Ratliffs own or manage a
dairy operation now. Comment: It might be difficult for them to
convince a buyer to use them as managers of a dairy.
From an email: In 2006, Mr. Ratliff contracted in writing to sell 1020
acres -- seven 160-acre plots -- to Daniel Hardison, who has a trucking
operation. Later Hardison tried to back out of the purchase, and
Ratliff sued him for damages. Ratliff won; Hardison appealed;
Ratliff's win was upheld, but the amount of damages was left to the trial court.
For a court report of the case to that point, see
Comment: Mr. Ratliff is clearly not committed to keeping the farm.
From an email: The potential buyer of the 1020 acres was Daniel
Hardison, who has a trucking operation. Comment: Mr. Ratliff is
clearly not committed to keeping the land in farming, and his proposal
indicates that his real goal might be to get the land rezoned, then
sell it to a Heavy Industrial user. Several people have picked up on
From an email: Might the Ratliffs sell to the Faria dairy?
From an email: Silage is inflammable. Has the Faria dairy had silage fires?
Not all comments at the meeting, nor emails later, were negative.
Here's one email, in full: "I think the dairy sounds like a good use
of the land. It will provide wholesome food, jobs, and take less water
than a crops only operation. If we lose our agriculture in this area,
we will certainly lose the way of life that attracted people here in
the first place. If the feeder lot is a problem, that needs to be
addressed. But to deny another business the chance to operate seems to
be painting with too broad a brush. I look forward to getting more
information about this project."
Terrie Gent sent comments favorable to the dairy (and critical of this website's coverage): "I
would strongly urge the readers of the CCIPRA newsletter to talk to Mr
Ratliff personally and not unquestioningly accept characterizations by
others. I have spent several hours with Mr. Ratliff.
I’ve looked at all of his property, not just the site of
the proposed dairy. What I learned, and this newsletter failed to
report, is that a significant portion of Mr. Ratliff’s farm is
certified organic. His dairy cows will eat alfalfa and grains
grown on his own property. He comes from a farming family.
His father planted cotton in Elfrida the day his father graduated
from college. Mr. Ratliff is a mechanical engineer. He
spent some time in that profession, but always the land and farming
tugged at him. He came home and returned to the profession he
loves. Farmers don’t get employer paid for health
insurance, medical leave, family leave, dental or optical plans.
They don’t get stock options or matching funds for a 401K.
They don’t get time and a half on holidays or weekends or
better pay for work at night. If they retire, they don’t
have pension plans. And when the crops and livestock don’t
bring in enough cash to pay the bills for their families, they have to
generate cash in other ways. Some sell land, some sell equipment,
some sell their homes and move into a trailer until the cash flow
improves. It’s not easy farming these days. If the
people of Cochise County don’t want our farmers and ranchers to
sell to developers, they have to remember these things. People
who moved here from elsewhere did so because they like the rural
character of our county. It is the farmers and ranchers who have
provided the rural “character.” Mr. Ratliff is a very
responsible young farmer. He is very smart. He will create
a dairy that is state of the art in many ways. He’s looking
at solar energy and green building design. And he is a terrific
young man. He will create a green and humane dairy. I urge
everyone to talk to him and make up their own mind." While many
of those comments don't seem to address the neighbors' concerns, CCIPRA
is pleased to provide a forum for that viewpoint.
Update: Gent recently added a suggestion that CCIPRA's reporting
Ratliff's own statement about local v. Mexican day labor amounts to
advocating the violation of federal law, by discriminating against those
born outside the USA, including many military spouses. Gent's email went
to the three county supervisors. CCIPRA notes that it merely reported
Ratliff's own answer, which did not contain any of the language used by
Here's a page with all five emails:
Most reaction received so far is negative.
From an email: These cows would be living in stressful conditions.
Comment: 15,000 cows on 160 acres is about 100 cows per acre, not even
allowing for buildings, roads, etc. That's 43 square feet per cow.
Visualize 15,000 boxes, each a little less than 8 feet long by 5 1/2
From an email: The County Supervisors should not waste any time on
this dairy application until all the details, front to back, are lined
up and ready for county consideration. County government spends too
much time spinning its wheels on airy speculations.
Finally, a quote from a very emphatic "anti" email: "Bottom line; I
agree with the comment that the meeting was successful. I disagree
with the notion that it was successful in elucidating the issue for the
folks. The proponents, Ratliff, et al, managed the crowd to their own
ends, as I pointed out. Again---7500 head of mature cows on 160 acres,
sharing that space with operational buildings, crops, etc. etc.etc.?
There is a collection of heads in the sandbox here! The declaration of
non-responsibility by the County, in re the continuing mess at the
Kansas Settlement dairy, does not seem to impact the collection of
taxes from that entity! Hmmm? There is skullduggery afoot, in my
view, and the folks in Cochise County are being hoodwinked by the same
mindset that is prevalent in Washington DC! ... Robert G.S Plant, E8, USN, Retired, Pearce."
You'll note that most of the work in the above wrapup came from other
people. My thanks to everyone who made comments or sent emails,
especially to people who sent useful links, and most especially to Diana Barton for all of her diligent research.
For more information from the Ratliffs in favor of the dairy, email
For more information from several parts of the anti-dairy movement, email
Carmen Myrick at email@example.com
and check out