By DAVID GREEN
Fallout from the Vreba-Hoff Dairy bankruptcy continues, with the auction of more than 400 acres of Lenawee County land scheduled Sept. 20.
An auction is also planned that day in St. Joseph County near Leonidas to sell 370 acres of land.
A farmhouse, barn and outbuildings are also on the auction block at each location.
The sale will be used to pay off a portion of the $9 million debt owed to creditors by Midwest AG Investments, the real estate subsidiary of Vreba-Hoff Dairy Development.
According to an article in the Adrian Daily Telegram, Lenawee County Circuit Judge Timothy Pickard approved an order in July to clear liens from titles in order to fast-track a sale. This would help the court ordered receiver, Amicus Management of Grand Rapids, Mich., take advantage of farm land prices that are currently running high.
Real estate agent Gene Beaverson of Fayette wasn’t yet familiar with the land scheduled for sale, but he’s seen agricultural land selling at prices much higher than even two years ago.
Recents sales in the Fayette-Archbold area have brought prices above $6,000 an acre, Beaverson said, but that was for land that was all tillable.
Halderman Real Estate Services of Wabash, Ind., is conducting the sales. The St. Joseph County land will be auctioned first, with a sale scheduled at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 20 in Leonidas. The Lenawee sale will follow at 6:30 p.m. at the Christian Family Center in Adrian.
Two of the Lenawee tracts are located southeast of Jasper on Treat Highway. The land was purchased several years ago when a 5,000 head dairy was proposed.
Another tract is located on Packard Road near Munson Highway. Two other tracts are located along U.S. 127 near Packard Road. Tillable acreage in Lenawee County totals about 300 acres. The farmhouse is located south of Packard on U.S. 127.
In addition to facing unpaid fines for environmental issues through the State of Michigan, Vreba-Hoff faced foreclosure last fall when the mortgage company Rabo Agrifinances sought payment of $55 million in loans.
Southern Michigan Dairy, a subsidiary of Rabo, later became the court-appointed owner of the farms.
STILL PROBLEMS—Large dairies with liquid manure systems have operated in the Hudson area since the first Vreba-Hoff facility was constructed in 1997. Ten years ago, after several cases of manure draining into streams, members of the Environmentally Concerned Citizens of South Central Michigan (ECCSCM), began a water monitoring project near manure application fields. The project tested water for E. coli bacteria and dissolved oxygen levels, two indicators of water quality.
The ECCSCM monitoring project of 2001-2003 documented several streams at risk from field application of liquid manure. The Department of Environmental Quality investigated, and in 2004 the DEQ placed two streams draining former Vreba-Hoff property on Michigan’s list of “impaired waters.”
Since then, no agency has done routine water testing. This led the ECCSCM to wonder how streams are faring today.
Volunteers began re-testing some of the same sites for E. coli and dissolved oxygen over the summer.
The first sampling on July 12 found E. coli bacteria counts as high as 52,000/100 ml at one site–52 times higher than Michigan’s standard of 1000/100 ml. for partial body contact. Two other sites also violated the water standard for E. coli with counts of 12,000 and 4,000/100 ml.
“Some agencies tell us practices have improved, the bad actors are gone. But the first test results don’t support that,” said Janet Kauffman, coordinator of the water monitoring project. “We’ll have a better idea what’s what in a few months.”
The group will monitor several sites every other week through the fall.
Total monitoring data is posted on the group’s website: www.eccscm.org.