Virginia farmer tears up Tranlin paper deal


DOWN ON THE FARM: A “greenfield” paper project endorsed and subsidized by state officials will damage the land, says Virginia farmer Joel Salatin.

By Kenric Ward | Virginia Bureau

RICHMOND, Va. — A leader in Virginia’s “sustainable agriculture” movement says an incoming Chinese paper-and-fertilizer plant is anything but.

And he accuses politicians of squandering tax dollars on the venture.

“To use taxpayer funding to attract a business predicated fundamentally on an anti-ecology premise indicates both political and societal rape of nature’s template,” Joel Salatin said.

Salatin, owner of Polyface Farms in the Shenandoah Valley, said plans by Tranlin Inc. to convert farm field “waste” into paper and fertilizer go against the grain of long-term land use.

“In a properly functioning agricultural system, wheat straw, peanut hulls and corn fodder would never be a ‘waste stream.’ Nature intends this carbon to feed the soil on site, either through direct residue application or via compost as livestock bedding,” he said.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe says Tranlin, which promises to hire 2,000 workers, will help power Virginia’s “21st century economy.”

Todd Haymore, Virginia secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, calls Tranlin good for the state’s farmers.

Tranlin represents a tremendous opportunity for Virginia’s corn and small grain producers by creating a lucrative new market for agricultural residuals that are typically left in the field,” Haymore said in a statement.

“Based on the agricultural supply chain opportunities associated with the project, the economic benefit to farmers in this region alone could exceed $50 million per year.”

As Watchdog reported, Tranlin stands to receive at least $31 million in local and state government subsidies and tax breaks.

Salatin predicts farmers will reap a vicious whirlwind.

“Let’s think about this a minute. Nature converts solar energy, on site, into biomass to either digest or decompose proximate to its growth.”

Stripping off farm field “waste,” Salatin said, merely increases the demand for evermore fertilizers.

“The fields generating this alleged carbon waste are being kept productive — for now — with chemical fertilizers produced using astronomical amounts of petroleum,” he said.

Tranlin aims to produce fertilizer with a “black liquor” cocktail that results from its paper-making process.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and the Virginia Tech Cooperative Extension say that use of “agricultural residuals” are compatible with Chesapeake Bay farm practices.

Salatin, who has written several books, including “Everything I Want to Do is Illegal,” contends there’s a better way.

“If Virginia farmers would put their money in carbon and composting instead of chemical fertilizers that require military action around the world to maintain cheap oil, we would create far more than 2,000 jobs,” the third-generation farmer told

Aside from opposition by conservative state Delegate Bob Marshall, politicians from both major parties effusively support the corporatist hook-up with Tranlin.

Environmentalists from the Sierra Club and the Chesapeake Climate Action Network declined to comment.

Salatin calls the state’s buy-in shortsighted and dangerous.

“In a time of alleged vitriolic partisanship, one thing universally unites our political leaders — exporting carbon and depleting Virginia soils,” he said.

“That the Chinese company is being subsidized to encourage a soil destructive scheme is both unconscionable and myopic.”

Tranlin’s designated spokeswoman, Julie Rautio, did not return Watchdog’s emails and phone calls seeking comment.

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent for and chief of its Virginia Bureau. Contact him at or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward