Poultry farm entitled to payments after bald eagle attacks
FSA appeals division rules that White Oak Pastures is due compensation for loss and destruction of 160,000 chickens resulting in $2.2 million in losses.
Photo courtesy of Backlight Photography
It has been determined that Georgia-based organic operation White Oak Pastures is entitled to compensation for the loss and destruction of its poultry due to bald eagle attacks, according to a ruling from the National Appeals Division (NAD) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency (FSA).
White Oak Pastures is a multi-generation, 3,200-acre farm located in Bluffton, Ga. To date, White Oak Pastures estimates that bald eagles have destroyed nearly 160,000 chickens, resulting in more than $2.2 million in losses. The decision followed years of disputes between the farm and FSA, the organization responsible for compensating producers and farmers under the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). The NAD ruling determined that FSA failed to follow its own rules for compensating farmers in its previous denials of White Oak Pastures' claims and that FSA's decision to deny benefits was erroneous.
"The ruling is a win not just for us but for all small farms everywhere. At White Oak Pastures, we are committed to animal welfare, regenerative farming and empowering and supporting our local economy," White Oak Pastures owner and fifth-generation rancher Will Harris said. "To survive at a time when conventional producers dominate the market, independent ranchers rely on equitable treatment by laws often written for big agricultural operations."
In 2010, White Oak Pastures expanded its production business to include pasture-raised, organic chickens, and by 2012, the farm had approximately 100,000 chickens, turkeys, guinea hens and ducks on open pastures and raised in a humane, sustainable and open environment. Only a few years later, nearly 80 bald eagles, protected by federal law, roosted in trees on the property and preyed on and destroyed nearly 30% of the farm's organic chickens. After numerous unsuccessful efforts to divert the bald eagles from the poultry areas -- ranging from use of noise machines to tarps -- White Oak Pastures approached FSA regarding the poultry losses and applied for LIP benefits.
White Oak Pastures' efforts to obtain benefits and compensation specifically set aside by FSA for such livestock death and destruction by federally protected species hit many roadblocks, and in 2017, FSA denied White Oak Pastures' LIP claims. FSA claimed that the farm failed to prove that its livestock losses occurred as a direct result of avian attacks, despite intensive documentation, confirmation from biologists and video and photographic evidence to the contrary.
White Oak Pastures then appealed FSA's decision with the NAD. Following an extended period of appeals from both FSA and White Oak Pastures, the NAD ruled in the farm's favor. The NAD ruled that FSA acted improperly when it denied White Oak Pastures' request for compensation and that the request for proof was inconsistent with the program regulations, resulting in an "erroneous" decision.
"We are extremely grateful that the National Appeals Division ruled in our favor and recognized our right to fair compensation for our losses," said Harris, who shifted the farm’s focus to raising free-range, organic livestock, including cattle, hogs, goats, turkeys, geese, ducks sheep and rabbits. "We are proud to be a working farm committed to doing what is right for the land and our animals and appreciate the recognition that the FSA acted improperly when it denied our claims."
With the ruling issued on Aug. 21, 2018, FSA is ordered by the NAD to work with White Oak Pastures to resolve the claims and issue a new decision.
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