TOPEKA — The state’s influential agriculture lobby delivered bipartisan support Friday for legislation engineered by the poultry industry to expand the number of birds allowed on concentrated chicken farms in Kansas.
House adoption of the bill on final action Monday would forward to Gov. Jeff Colyer a measure passed 29-10 by the Senate and blessed by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association and championed by lobbyists with Tyson Foods.
“This is something industry requested,” said Rep. Don Schroeder, R-Hesston. “They need to know what the rules of engagement are.”
Key sections of Senate Bill 405 would place into state law a mathematical formula designed to allow a producer to raise 330,000 birds in a cluster of a dozen or so barns located up to a quarter of a mile from a neighbor’s home or business or 100 feet from a neighbor’s property line.
The bill also specifies confined chicken facilities in Kansas deploying a so-called “dry manure system” and hosting more than 125,000 broilers or more than 82,000 laying hens must secure a federal permit. Existing state law addressed old-fashioned wet manure operations frequently linked to significant odor problems.
Advocates of the bill pointed to potential development of a robust poultry industry in Kansas and creation of jobs in economically depressed regions of the state. The Kansas Sierra Club, Kansas Rural Center and others raised water and air pollution issues and argued distance thresholds in the bill were inadequate.
“It puts Kansas in a really good spot,” said Rep. Kyle Hoffman, the House Agriculture Committee chairman who indicated Cloud and Montgomery counties were recruiting poultry plants. “We can say that Kansas is ready to become not only a leader in other agriculture and other animal production, but also in poultry.”
Rep. Jim Karleskint, R-Tonganoxie, said he opposed the legislation based on research inspired by the proposal by Tyson Foods to build a $320 million chicken production complex in Leavenworth County. Amid a firestorm of controversy, Tyson Foods bailed on the Kansas project.
“This type of endeavor is not agriculture, but it is corporate poultry,” Karleskint said. “Corporate poultry is a system where a company owns the birds, they own the feed, they own the veterinary services and they own the processing plant. The farmers own the debt and the farmers own the manure.”
He mentioned Tyson Foods, of Springdale, Ark., paid a $2.5 million fine in 2017 for violation of the Clean Water Act. The company admitted discharging a liquid food supplement into the city sewer system in Monett, Mo., which led to the death of more than 100,000 fish in Clear Creek.
“This type of activity is detrimental to health, to the air quality, to water, to wastewater,” Karleskint said. “It is much more complicated than I think meets the eye.”
Issues raised by the bill reflected controversy born of Tyson Foods’ arrangement with then-Gov. Sam Brownback, Leavenworth County and Tonganoxie officials to build a processing plant capable of handling 1.2 million chickens per week, along with a feed mill and chick hatchery. The plan included construction of 200 to 250 chicken houses on farms and ranches in northeast Kansas to supply birds to the company.
Once the agreement was made public in September, an uprising among people living in and around Tonganoxie prompted the Leavenworth County Commission to rescind an offer of economic incentives to Tyson Foods. The nation's largest processor of chickens responded by selecting an alternate site in Tennessee.
During House debate on the bill, an amendment from Karleskint authorizing a referendum process that could lead to a countywide vote on whether to allow concentrated poultry operations was rejected.
“We came here to represent our constituents,” Karleskint said. “Are you representing your constituents or someone else?”
Hoffman, a Coldwater Republican, said the "No Tyson in Tongie" rebellion proved there was no need for public elections on industrial-scale poultry operations.
“What happened in Tonganoxie is an embarrassment,” said Rep. Larry Hibbard, a Toronto Republican supportive of the bill and opposed to Karleskint's amendment. “This amendment will virtually destroy any opportunity for poultry production and processing in Kansas.”
The House also voted down an amendment by Rep. Eileen Horn, D-Lawrence, to increase distance requirements for location of poultry barns from homes, businesses or schools. It would have made Kansas law comparable to regulations in Georgia, Wisconsin and Missouri, she said.