TROUBLE BREWING

THE TUCKER FAMILY SAYS HAY GROWN BY ANHEUSER-BUSCH GAVE ITS DAIRY COWS A ROYAL HANGOVER.

When Sellmer got back Nutri-Turf's lab analysis, he sent personnel to truck away what was left of the university's hay. However, while managers at the brewery were sympathetic, said Greathouse during the deposition, they declined to accept responsibility or compensate CSU. The university called in its lawyers.

By the late spring of 1990 the Tuckers had begun to hear rumors about CSU's problems with Nutri-Turf. Shortly afterward, the family received a visit from Duane Sellmer, who told them that Nutri-Turf was beginning a nutritional analysis program for its hay. The service would be provided free of charge for the Tucker Dairy, a valued customer. Chuck Tucker says that when he asked Sellmer about the CSU rumors, the Nutri-Turf manager attributed the university's problems to poor ranch management. However, says Tucker, to reassure the family that there were no problems with the hay, Sellmer explained that the tests would measure the nitrate content. Results released to the Tuckers showed the hay to have generally low nitrate levels.

The Tuckers were given similar assurances by the contractor Nutri-Turf had hired to cut and deliver the hay to the dairy. Marvin Tolle was an old friend of Charlie Tucker's, who for years had lent Tolle and his son equipment for harvesting and hauling, including a semi-truck that the Tolles used for a summer.

But by September, says Iven Tucker, the situation at the dairy had worsened dramatically. The Wyoming hay had run out and Nutri-Turf hay alone was given to the herd. "That's when it really got bad," he says.

No matter how hard the Tuckers worked, they couldn't stem the dairy's falling production. Once a cow quits milking, says Iven Tucker, a year can go by before she has another calf and starts milking again. "And your overhead stays the same. You can't stop feeding a cow when she stops giving milk."

When the men finished work each day, says Erna Tucker, Charlie's wife, "I almost hated to see them come in the house. You could see it on their faces. They didn't know what else they could do." The family was "flat going broke," adds Chuck. After considering selling the business, the Tuckers instead decided to hang on--and to wade in deeper.

The family went to Tom Gleason at First Interstate Bank in Fort Collins and asked for $50,000 to buy more cows. "My relationship with Charlie Tucker goes back forty years, I guess," says Gleason, the bank president. "We've always had just a very, very fine relationship. The Tuckers are very good dairy people. They're a fine family and we think very highly of them." He gave them the loan on Charlie's signature.

It was the first good news the Tuckers had had in months. They soon got more.
That summer the Tuckers had hired Greeley animal nutritionist Richard Hergert to figure out what was wrong with their herd. Hergert compared the diet of the Tucker cows to that of other client dairies in the area. Other herds were producing well on virtually the same diet. The only difference he detected after a two-and-a-half-month controlled study was the Tuckers' use of Nutri-Turf hay.

In late September Hergert, concerned about the rumors of CSU's troubles at the Maxwell Ranch, phoned Gary Greathouse, who suggested that the Tucker hay be tested for nitrates. Chuck Tucker sampled various bales--and this time, instead of relying on Nutri-Turf to do the testing, he delivered them to a lab in Brighton. "That afternoon the technician called us and told us to immediately stop using that hay," Chuck says. "The nitrate levels were real high." In fact, he adds, displaying a sheaf of lab findings, many were three to four times higher than the levels showns in Nutri-Turf's tests.

After subsequent phone conversations between Greathouse and Chuck Tucker, the CSU ranch manager asked Tucker and his father to come to the Fort Collins office of attorney David Wood. The lawyer was representing CSU, which wanted the Tuckers to give a statement on their conclusions about Nutri-Turf hay. The Tuckers were glad to help bolster the university's case.

Not long afterward, Anheuser-Busch settled out of court with CSU for an undisclosed sum. As part of the agreement, Greathouse and other university employees were required to refrain from discussing the incident or the settlement with anyone. Contacted at his university office, Greathouse says he doesn't believe he can comment under terms of the settlement. His superior, Kathleen Byington, president of the Colorado State University Research Foundation, did not return phone calls from Westword.

"What really gets me," says Chuck Tucker, "is they're an agriculture college and they're not helping us. They made a deal with Anheuser-Busch. The farmer doesn't matter to them."

Tucker feels the same way about the state's agriculture department. When he asked for an agent to sample and test a stack of Tucker Dairy's Nutri-Turf hay, he says, James Thurman of the department's inspection division told him there was no need, as Nutri-Turf hay from Maxwell Ranch already had been tested. Thurman says he vaguely remembers speaking to Tucker but can't remember the details. Julie Zimmerman, who runs the agriculture department's feed program, says after the department tested the Maxwell Ranch hay, it found that experts disagreed on the level at which nitrates become harmful to animals--and therefore decided to take no action.

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