Farmers in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties are disposing of hundreds of cows that died in the June heat wave, overwhelming the region’s largest rendering plant.
The counties are allowing the dairies to bury or compost the carcasses because Baker Commodities in Kerman could not handle the volume of dead animals. The unusual run of June heat, including nine straight days of triple-digit high temperatures, and a mechanical malfunction at the plant contributed to the overload.
Wayne Fox, division manager of environmental health at Fresno County Department of Public Health, said Baker normally processes about 1 million pounds of animal flesh a day. Fresno County Board of Supervisors Chairman Brian Pacheco, who is a dairy farmer, said Baker had ratcheted up its capacity to 1.5 million pounds per day before a daylong machinery malfunction significantly slowed the rendering process.
“They’ve worked through it, but they have been getting further and further behind,” Pacheco said.
Once the animals decompose to a certain point, they can’t be rendered, Pacheco said.
Because of the excess carcasses, Baker stopped picking up on Wednesday from local farms, leaving farmers without a place to send their dead animals.
“I am aware that we had an extremely hot spell that led to a very high mortality rate and it did exceed our capacity,” said Jimmy Andreoli II, assistant vice president, public relations/corporate procurement for Baker Commodities in Southern California.
To handle the problem, the counties had to take the unusual step of giving dairies permission to bury or compost the animals on site under a strict set of temporary rules outlined by state water and agricultural agencies. Kings, Tulare and Fresno counties declared a state of emergency, clearing the way for the disposal methods.
This isn’t the first time there has been a heat-related disaster for livestock owners. Valley farmers went through a similar crisis in 2006 when nearly $300 million in losses were reported due to the heat. In Kings County, 1,834 milk cows valued at $3.7 million died. It is too soon for county officials to know how many animals died in this heat wave.
Fox said extreme heat coupled with hot temperatures at night can be deadly to livestock.
Fresno County Agricultural Commissioner Les Wright said Baker is expected to resume receiving carcasses on Monday.
The Fresno County Board of Supervisors has called a special meeting to discuss the emergency.
When: 11 a.m. Thursday
Where: Hall of Records, 2281 Tulare St., downtown Fresno