Oklahoma agriculture board approves poultry farm proposals

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This Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 photo shows chickens under observation at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. Researchers are tracking chicken traits like weight, growth rate and meat quality they hope will be useful to the poultry industry. (AP Photo/Federica Narancio)

The Oklahoma Board of Agriculture on Tuesday approved proposals for new or expanding poultry operations requiring them to be a certain distance away from homes and schools, but some eastern Oklahoma residents say the plan doesn’t go far enough.

The board voted 3-2 for the rules that include “setback” requirements that operations with fewer than 150,000 birds be at least 500 feet (152 meters) from homes and larger operations be at least 1,000 feet (305 meters) away. All operations must be at least 1,500 feet (457 meters) from schools.

All operations must be 200 feet (61 meters) from streams, 100 feet (30 meters) from private wells and 500 feet (152 meters) from public wells.

The proposal now goes to the Legislature and, if approved and signed by the governor, would go into effect in September.

Pam Kingfisher of the unincorporated Rose community in Mayes County said the setbacks weren’t available until Friday and don’t go far enough. Kingfisher said a previous proposal that failed to win approval in December was for setbacks of .25 mile (.4 kilometers) from homes and .5 miles (.8 kilometers) from schools.

“We’re worried about our water long term. A lot of us out here are on water wells,” said Kingfisher, a coordinator of the group Green Country Guardians, which has fought what it believes is pollution of the land and water by chicken waste.

“We can’t open our doors in the summer because of the smell of chicken litter,” Kingfisher said.

Blayne Arthur, Commissioner of Oklahoma Agriculture and agriculture board president said the proposal provides protection for the industry and residents.

“There are currently no regulations in place on any poultry housing locations, however, we recognize the importance of poultry in Oklahoma and also recognize the voices of concerned Oklahomans,” Arthur said. “These setbacks will help enhance the living conditions of citizens and also will continue to support the poultry industry.”

Arthur said the two board members who voted against the plan oppose any form of setbacks because of the potential future precedent it could have on other agriculture industries in the state.

Kingfisher said her group will push for legislative passage of a billpending in the state House that calls for poultry operations with more than 30,000 birds to be at least .5 miles (.8 kilometers) from homes and schools, .25 miles (.4 kilometers) from streams and 1,000 feet (304 meters) from private wells

Kingfisher said her attempts to contact agriculture board members have been ignored.

“I guess they just think we’re country bumpkins and we don’t know anything, and that we don’t matter, and that’s the part that hurts,” Kingfisher said.

“I don’t care if they respect us or care about us but it’s their job to protect us.”

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