A rendering plant that became overwhelmed by dead cows during a heat wave in June is back in operation, but emergency orders allowing farmers to dispose of carcasses on farms remains in effect this weekend as temperatures are expected to soar to 108 degrees.
“With the temperatures through summer being extreme, I feel comfortable just to do the wait-and-see thing for right now,” said Marilyn Kinoshita, Tulare County agricultural commissioner.
Temperatures on Saturday and Sunday are forecast to be 108 degrees in Fresno and 107 in Hanford and Tulare.
Anytime temperatures exceed 105 degrees there will be deaths. Dairies have fans, misters and shade to cool their cows, but “even under those circumstances not everyone will make it through a heat wave,” said Brian Pacheco, a dairy farmer and chairman of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors.
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Temporary orders in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties will permit dairies to bury or compost carcasses this weekend, should it become necessary. The counties issued the orders last week after the number of dead cows during nine straight days of triple-digit high temperatures exceeded capacity at Baker Commodities, causing equipment to fail at the Kerman facility, the largest rendering plant in the region.
Baker Commodities had equipment back up and running in hours, Jimmy Andreoli, assistant vice president for public relations, said Friday. “Unfortunately, there was such an overwhelming amount of material that we got backed up.”
Andreoli said the company is looking to add capacity to the plant. “We’ll do everything in our power to make sure it never happens again,” he said.
It’s not known exactly how many cows died in the June heat wave, but Les Wright, Fresno County agricultural commissioner, said that Valley farmers could have lost 5,000 to 7,500 dairy cows. This is not the first heat-wave crisis for Valley dairy farmers. In 2006, they lost nearly $300 million due to the heat. Kings County said at the time that 1,834 milk cows valued at $3.7 million died.
Last week, with the rendering plant unable to accept all of the carcasses, farmers had little choice but to find alternatives for disposal. Once animals decompose to a certain point, they cannot be rendered.
Fresno County officials hope that with the Kerman plant back in operation, the county can lift the disposal order on Tuesday, Pacheco said. Kings County also expects to lift its emergency order on Tuesday.
Although Madera County has not seen a high number of cattle deaths, its landfill in Fairmead is permitted by the State Water Board and Cal Recycle to accept carcasses for disposal, according to Alan Davis, general manager for Caglia Environmental, the county’s landfill operator.
“We hope to assist our neighboring counties through this crisis,” said Eric Fleming, Madera County administrative officer.
The landfill is prepared to start taking carcasses for disposal immediately, Davis said, adding that ranchers can call the landfill directly at 559-665-7300 to schedule an appointment.