OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Lundy Kiger (R-Poteau) today issued the following statement regarding the state Department of Agriculture’s public hearings on setbacks for new or expanding construction of poultry farms:
LeFlore County is home to many farm family poultry growers producing fully mature chickens for OK Foods. Poultry is a large and important industry to our region with good paying jobs that we want to protect.
We understand and support poultry companies such as OK Foods in being profitable to stay in business, but at the same time these corporations must be fair in their decisions in approving locations of new farms, to both the growers and all neighbors.
Mega barn farm complexes are growing in large numbers in Northeast Oklahoma and these new large size farms might be good and profitable for companies, but at the same time these new complexes come with their own issues environmentally related to more litter in one location, more water needed at a location, and much more odor issues affecting neighbors, schools, businesses and communities.
I support companies managing their business, but not at the expense of killing established family farm growers and affecting their local farm investments or harming anyone classified as a neighbor.
If a larger mega farm complex is designed to intentionally put out of business any farm families who have invested to build barns supporting their families, then I do not support any new mega farm complexes, at all.
We have to protect our established farm businesses meeting contract demands, no matter the direction of any corporate organization!
Much media attention has been given to poultry barns in Northeast Oklahoma referred to as mega farm complex operations.
We’re now seeing larger barns and farm complexes being developed in eastern Oklahoma, with two permitted and one under construction without a valid permit to date. Currently, this one farm and any new farm projects to be constructed are under a statewide moratorium.
The outcry in Northeast Oklahoma has been loud, and it’s also filtered south to LeFlore County. So the Department of Agriculture and its Board, or the state Legislature must now deal with these issues related to setbacks and other needed regulations.
But while developing new regulations, we must also work to find balanced solutions that includes poultry companies and growers, and especially keeping neighboring properties in mind.
To help with the optics or creating better public relations, I see a lot of value if permitted sites for new farms applied, at least go through a public notice process or hearing. This would give neighboring non-farm families the opportunity to make comments and know ahead of time, since it’s going to affect their homes, families and personal investments, if the permit is being met according to regulations.
LeFlore County does not want to become a county that doesn’t welcome this important industry to our area, and setback rules developed will affect how the public will view this important industry in the future.
At this time, we must develop rules and regulations that will also protect neighboring lands and home values.
While we recognize home values and neighbors, we must also recognize the importance of farm families and growers’ land rights to construct and increase their abilities to grow their business, increase incomes and pass the farm onto their children through permitting.
Once a poultry farm is permitted, constructed and meets all new setback rules, there needs to be a mechanism for the farm in the future to grow. This must be based on the permit being met to also increase or replace the number of houses in the future, if desired, with pre-permitting additional houses without violating regulations, if a neighbors builds later within the setback distances, after the grower’s initial permitting is met.
A sunset or time period for an additional permitted area of a farm that is not built on initially should be placed under a sunset period to ensure a neighbor isn’t held captive forever to build on his or her own property purchased. A waiver could also still be signed by any neighbor who might build within any new setback distances.
In other words, if you permit four houses to be built with four additional houses permitted for later, and a new family dwelling is constructed within the permitted area violating the setback distances, the farmer or grower’s permitted area remains permitted and available for expansion.
Other areas that need to be considered during the rulemaking related to setbacks should also include air, dust, water and odor. These four items are important environmental components of the overall equation, and I’m not sure the Department of Agriculture has the ability to regulate all things associated with this very public issue.
I appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on behalf of District 3 in LeFlore County, as we all work together to protect this vital industry in rural Oklahoma, as well as our hard working growers and all neighboring families.
I met with State Agriculture Secretary Blayne Arthur on this issue earlier and appreciate her efforts. I’ve also met with many of the farm families in LeFlore County as well as neighbors to some of the new larger houses being developed in LeFlore County.
I believe we can find a solution that’s good for all three parties while having continued economic improvement in our county.