While Montgomery County investigates all that is involved with poultry production, the Kansas Senate is working on Senate Bill 405, which would potentially provide relief to farmers who wanted to raise chickens for a poultry processing facility by decreasing the necessary setback requirements for building barns to raise the chickens.

Senate Bill 405 (SB 405) is a bill from the Ways and Means Committee of the Kansas Senate which would establish an animal unit conversion factor of 0.003 for both broiler chicken and laying hens for poultry facilities that use dry manure systems. This amends KSA 65-171d, which previously did not account for dry manure systems. It only accounted for continuous overflow watering systems or liquid manure systems. The new factor of .003 would decrease the setback requirements for poultry barns for commercial operations such as the proposed Tyson plant. Under the current statute, any structure with 125,000 or more broiler chickens or hens would require 4,000 feet between it and other habitable structure.

Supporters of the poultry industry in Kansas are concerned that these requirements are a challenge to growing the industry, as those farmers raising chickens would most likely require the acquisition of new land to accommodate the setback. The new requirements for dry manure facilities would allow a setback of 1,320 feet for structures with up to 333,333 broiler chickens or hens, whereas those facilities with more than 333,333 would still require a setback of 4,000 feet.

The new bill does not alter the part of the statute which states the distance requirements do not apply if the farmer obtains a written agreement from all owners of habitable structures that are within the separation distance stating such owners are aware of the construction or expansion and have no objections to it. It also states that the secretary of health and environment may reduce the separation requirements if there are no substantial objections from owners of habitable structures within the separation distance is received in response to public notice, or if the board of county commissioners of the county where the confined feeding facility is located submits a written request seeking a reduction of separation distances.

SB 405 was introduced to the Kansas Senate Wednesday, Feb. 7 and they have heard hearings on it since. They reconvened Wednesday morning for the hearing continuation.

Montgomery County Action Council executive director Trisha Purdon was asked to provide testimony to the Senate agriculture committee Monday, Feb. 12. Pardon began by telling the committee that in Kansas right now there are no specific laws for broiler growing operations and the bill would establish a better definition of broilers so it is more accurate regarding the weight of the bird and the amount of litter generated per square foot. She added KDHE established the conversion unit to match the science on litter generation.

“The bill will still keep Kansas as the strictest state in the country on poultry setbacks, tied with Nebraska,” Purdon said. She said the agriculture committee asked her to “provide insights representing a region that is interested in attracting poultry operations.”

Pardon presented her testimony to Chairman Dan Kerschen and the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources committee in support of SB 405. Within the testimony Purdon stated, “One of the key goals of [MCAC] since its founding in 1983 is to diversify our economy, and we strongly believe that bringing the poultry industry to Kansas will help us accomplish this goal.” She told the committee how Montgomery County and many of the southeast Kansas economic development teams have been collaborating on how to recruit the poultry industry to the area believing the collaboration should extend to the state as part of the economic development team.

“By establishing strong legislation like Senate Bill 405, Kansas would show the poultry industry that we are open for business and economic growth,” Purdon’s testimony stated. “Our community realized this industry offers a large opportunity for growth our region hasn’t seen in decades.” She told the committee how Montgomery County and southeast Kansas is know for heavy industry but in the last few years the region has also become known as “the Appalachia of the Midwest” due to major job losses, health indicators, poverty rates and substance abuse issues which was accelerated when the county received “the devastating blow of simultaneous closures of Amazon.com’s distribution center and Southwire Manufacturing.” Those two companies employed nearly 1,500 people and the county has only recouped 20 percent of those lost jobs.

In her testimony, Purdon stated the community realized the poultry industry offers a large opportunity for growth which forced Montgomery County and the region to take stock of the natural resources and consider multiple facets required to bring the poultry industry to the area. A regional leadership task force of 55 members was formed to analyze the impact on workforce, infrastructure, education, transportation and other concerns.

“We had several meetings with regional partners that were knowledgeable on current farming and production operations, land use, agriculture, water, environment, watersheds, finance, soil conditions, workforce, etc. so that we could understand how this project would impact our region, and how our region would benefit from this industry,” Purdon stated during her testimony.

She told the committee the county investigated whether they could accommodate poultry production with work force being the most critical deciding factor in site selection. Purdon said according to the US Census Bureau Labor Report, there are 51,205 workers in the 30 mile radius of the proposed site which a large employer could draw from including 5,343 unemployed in the Kansas and Oklahoma 10 county area. “Southeast Kansas consistently has the highest unemployment and underemployment rates in the state and bringing such a large employer to this area could alleviate this perpetual cycle,” Purdon explained. “The economic impact Tyson would have on our region and families in our area is staggering.”

Purdon stated the Southeast Kansas Poultry Taskforce needs to include Topeka leaders as well as they can address the gaps in policy, best management practices, and procedures needed to both recruit and manage the poultry industry once they establish in the area. “Senate Bill 405 opens the door for farmers in Kansas who want to raise chickens for poultry integrators,” she told the committee. “We need to establish reasonable setbacks that ensure our producers are good neighbors in there area but also allow them to do business profitably, without incurring debt that requires a long term repayment period.”

She told them that as legislators, they would also protect the farmers who want to diversify their farms with poultry operations by ensuring they can meet industry standards for the number of birds being raised. “Another key role the State must have on this project is to ensure our state is not only competitive with our surrounding states for poultry production but we also need to ensure we are being competitive for the growing operations as well,” stated Purdon. “We have an opportunity to set the standards and best management practices for a new industry in our state. Let us prepare by implementing competitive, yet responsible, set back laws, poultry litter best management practices and a sustainable watershed and water supply protection program statewide.”

Purdon finished her testimony to the Kansas Senate by stating, “The pieces are in place for Kansas to start producing, we have the grain and water needed as well as the farm families who want to invest in this industry. We have strong regional support for the poultry industry and we believe the State of Kansas can make an even stronger statement of support by passing Senate Bill 405. With the passage of this bill, the State of Kansas clearly conveys to all poultry integrators that we are open for business for the poultry industry and for future growth in agriculture business in Kansas.”