What You Need To Know
-Allegany County IDA filed for eminent domain to seize 269 acres of land from Charlie Bares’ Mallards Farms
-Bares has rejected offers from Great Lakes Cheese, including one for eight times the value of the land, saying fertile land in Bellvadere is crucial to his 3,000 head dairy business
-Great Lakes Cheese plans to build a half-billion dollar plant just south of Interstate 86’s Belmont exit
-The Ohio-based cheese company, which already employs more than 200 in Cuba, NY, has threatened to pull its factory proposal from Allegany County if the Bellvidere site is not made available.
At any time, he can step into a milking suite and see another line of cows shuffling toward the milkers.
“That’s what we like to see,” he said. “Happy cows.”
Happiness is harder to find these days on this sprawling dairy operation. It’s a 10-minute ride north of Interstate 86. It is a tough business to begin with, with corporate agriculture swallowing up businesses like Charlie’s like a cold glass of milk.
Charlie has done well with his 3,000 head of cattle in the heart of the Southern Tier. It’s not bad for a guy who got into this just a generation ago. But now even his cows can smell somethings coming.
Most of the time, it’s the mix of corn and alfalfa his crews pulverize to feed the cows.
“This is how we feed them and this is the, this is the mix that is 60% forage,” Bares said.
And 100% homemade allows Mallards Dairy to stack it 15 feet high in bunkers, so the moneymakers can crush 150 tons of it a day, to keep this round the clock business flowing
He has a 269-acre parcel where grows valuable alfalfa for this feed.
“It happens to be our most fertile. It happens to be our biggest field and that makes a big difference,” Bares said.
And it is land that is flat. The rarest of green diamonds is in these foothills. And that makes it wanted.
“You don’t hear that very often,” said Craig Clark, Allegany County IDA.
Great Lake Cheese, which owns a factory just down the road from Charlie’s farm just outside the village of Cuba, wants to expand. It has a $500 million mega factory on the table, right off the main expressway in the heart of dairy country.
It wants to build it on Charlie’s alfalfa field.
“Most companies that we’ve lost over the years would come out and say, ‘we’re gone,’ Clark said. “They didn’t. They said ‘how can we how can we help them find the right location to expand and double the size of their facility?’”
If the plant is built, it becomes Allegany County’s largest employer. It would be a game-changer for the region that Clark has been working to make happen every step of the way; even after the cheesemaker threatened to leave the region if it couldn’t buy Charlie’s land and build the new factory.
“Because Allegany County doesn’t have a lot of flat land, especially along I-86,” Clark said.
Charlie has no intention of selling to Great Lakes.
“You can’t throw money at it and it would take luck and time to have more, you know, somebody dies or goes out of business,” he said. “You just can’t replace land like that,” said Bares.
When Charlie said “no deal,” Allegany County IDA countered by seeking eminent domain through the courts. It would transfer Charlie’s land to Great Lakes and Charlie will get money and Land in return.
“We were hoping it would never come to this,” Clark said. “The only reason we’re looking at it is such a massive number of jobs and investment in the county, you know. “We just can’t afford to lose that. The co-op, they all support it as well as many of the farmers, the larger farmers obviously, because this is a huge impact on us, double the milk usage.”
Charlie hired the best eminent domain lawyer he could find to represent him and Marshacres LLC. A court petition to stop the IDA from taking the land was filed. The case will be heard in October.
“I say eminent domain is used when the public benefit is overwhelming the private benefit is incidental and this is exactly the opposite really,” Bares said. “The only ones that come out ahead are the politicians. If people think I’m stubborn, so be it. I mean, like, I can’t do that. This is wrong on so many fronts. It’s wrong environmentally. It’s a beautiful riparian woods. It’s wrong agriculturally. We need this land is it as a nation. We need this good cropland, you know humanity. We should not be paving over our best land in an area. We should not be picking and harming one business to help another business.”
Both sides continue private negotiations.
“Everyone has a price, right?” Charlie told a newspaper.