DEP Reversal Forces Nicholas Meat Shut-down

February 22, 2021

Nicholas Meat,  just one of more than 900 Pennsylvania processing facilities that generate FPR that farmers apply throughout the Commonwealth, seeks workable solutions for all impacted.

LOGANTON, PA. (February 22, 2021) –  Nicholas Meat LLC, a family-owned business, has no alternative but to temporarily shut down its plant operations at the end of the day Tues., Feb. 23, because of a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) compliance order issued with little warning and no explanation. The action impacts employees, farmers and consumers, not just locally, but statewide and beyond.

Nicholas Meat is the primary employer in the Loganton area, a small farming community with a population of about 3,000. A closure impacts more than 350 essential employees at the plant and 150 contract workers, hundreds of farmers and cattle buyers, and will impact the beef supply for consumers. On Friday, February 19, 2021, the PA Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) denied Nicholas Meat’s petition to temporarily set aside the compliance order. 

“If action is not taken to reverse the shocking decision of the DEP, these people will be without jobs and income to support their families,” said Doug Nicholas, Chief Operating Officer, Nicholas Meat. “These are the same employees who have shown up to work every day to feed Pennsylvania families despite challenging times. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the plant never shut down, because we were able to ensure that safety standards were in place to help these essential workers do their jobs and contribute to our nation’s food supply.”

The DEP’s February 9, 2021, compliance order suddenly and unexpectedly required Nicholas Meat to cease land application of food processing residuals (FPR) on fields that are snow-covered, after it permitted this practice for more than a decade. Nicholas Meat has safely applied this nutrient-rich and organic FPR to farmland year-round, including when snow is present on fields, using best management practices and in accordance with the relevant regulations for more than a decade.

After learning of the DEP’s compliance order, principal author of the DEP’s Pennsylvania Food Processing Residual Management Manual, Robin C. Brandt, PhD, P.E., wrote to the DEP in support of Nicholas Meat’s continued land application of FPR – year-round and including the application of FPR on fields that are snow-covered.

“The intent of the FPR guidance is to promote environmentally responsible beneficial use of FPRs,” wrote Brandt. “From what I have seen, the Bazooka-Farmstar toolbar equipment used by Nicholas Meat LLC satisfies the intent of the FPR manual. At the time this narrative was drafted for the FPR manual, in the early 90s, we were not aware of any practical land application equipment that could overcome the drawbacks associated with treatment of snow-covered fields.”

The DEP’s sudden and surprising reversal of the department’s position, after supporting the responsible application of FPR by Nicholas Meat for more than a decade, will disrupt food retailers and hurt Pennsylvania consumers’ access to a local and consistent beef supply, including grass-fed, natural (antibiotic and hormone free), and organic beef products.

Hundreds of farmers and cattle buyers across Pennsylvania and the surrounding states count on Nicholas Meat to harvest their cattle. The sudden closure of this facility will force farmers to look for other markets to process their animals. On average, Nicholas Meat processes 600 head of beef cattle daily, brought to them by farmers and cattle sellers from Pennsylvania and surrounding states. 

Nicholas Meat is deeply committed to sustainability and sound environmental practices. In fact, Nicholas Meat just received approval on February 11, 2021, to construct a comprehensive Sustainable Resources Facility that will have an advanced wastewater treatment system allowing the company to reclaim up to 90% of water used and convert FPR into renewable energy thereby reducing Nicholas Meat’s carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.

“This arbitrary reversal in the DEP’s longstanding position of allowing Nicholas Meat to apply FPR to snow-covered fields, and causing our operation to temporarily shut down, now puts this environmentally beneficial project at serious risk,” said Brian Miller, Director of Sustainability at Nicholas Meat.  

It is imperative for employees, farmers and the food supply chain that the company remain open and continue to supply farmers with FPR to apply in a safe and legal manner.

“Unless something changes, we’ll be forced to temporarily shut down the plant Tuesday until improved weather conditions permit us to spread FPR and reopen our plant,” said Miller. “We want to work with the DEP on a solution that’s good for everyone – our employees, customers, farmers and the community.”

The Pennsylvania Superior Court and DEP have both previously found Nicholas Meat’s FPR land application activities to be acceptable and permissible. The Pennsylvania Superior Court determined that Nicholas Meat’s land application and storage of FPR are “normal agricultural operations” that are protected under Pennsylvania’s Right to Farm Act.

Nicholas Meat, LLC. has been a family run business in Loganton for more than 30 years. More than a business, our family is thankful to call this area our home for more than 200 years.

Jana McGuire

Donna Moenning