Oklahoma has suspended permitting of poultry farms in the state until a board of state and tribal officials can analyze the industry’s growth.
The Oklahoma Board of Agriculture made the decision on Oct. 8 and the suspension went into place at that time. Authorization for the suspension on the acceptance and processing of registration for poultry feeding operations by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry (ODAFF) comes from Title 2 of the Oklahoma Statutes, Section 2-4.
The suspension will remain in place while the board works with the Coordinating Council on Poultry Growth to analyze any potential problems with growing the poultry sector.
According to Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese there is only one application that is currently pending.
“Therefore we find it timely to pause and temporarily suspend accepting applications. The board intends to take into consideration the work of the Coordinating Council on poultry growth and determine if a more structured plan can accommodate neighbors, communities, and the poultry industry,” Reese says.
The Cherokee Nation, a member of the Coordinating Council, applauded the decision.
“With this suspension in place and the Coordinating Council on Poultry Growth bringing together agricultural interests and concerned neighbors, there are great opportunities to improve the balance of interests between the agricultural industry and the eastern Oklahoma communities where many new poultry feeding operations have been built over the last year,” says Chuck Hoskin, Jr., Cherokee Nation secretary of state.
The Coordinating Council on Poultry Growth was formed in September by Governor Mary Fallin and Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. The purpose of the council is to evaluate the expansion of poultry growth in northeast Oklahoma, and its impacts on rural communities and citizens in the region.
Members of the council include staff from the Cherokee Nation along with staff from Oklahoma’s Department of Food, Forestry and Agriculture, the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, the Grand River Dam Authority, and the Oklahoma Conservation Commission. Co-charing the council are Secretary Reese and Cherokee Nation Secretary of Natural Resources Sara Hill.
“This suspension is truly welcomed by the Cherokee Nation,” Principal Chief Baker says. “This pause is a meaningful step that allows thoughtful changes to public policy be proposed, if the council finds changes are needed. We look forward to continuing to work with the state of Oklahoma and local stakeholders to protect investment in agriculture and local communities.”
The decision to temporarily halt poultry farm expansion in the Oklahoma comes at a time when Simmons Foods plans to build a chicken processing plant less than 10 miles across the border in Gentry, Ark. The plant plans to sell approximately 850 million lb. of poultry meat annually when at full production. In the past year there have been 41 permits issued by ODAFF to expand or build new poultry houses. The majority of these expansions cited Simmons Foods as the integrator.
“ODAFF is supportive of the poultry industry and its expansion, we hope this pause allows for discussions to avoid yet another ‘boom and bust’ impact that Oklahoma knows so well,” Reese says.
The activist group Spring Creek Guardians was supportive of the decision to halt poultry farm expansion. Pam Kingfischer, administrator for Spring Creek Guardians, tells the Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette that 400 handwritten signatures were submitted seeking a halt to permitting to examine the impact of poultry houses on water wells. She says a similar online petition will be submitted with more than 600 signatures.
“I hope they look back in the last month or so and revoke some of the applications,” Kingfischer says. “They only have one pending and there's quite a few who were approved in the last few months.”
Oklahoma’s halt in poultry farm permitting comes nearly a year after Tyson Foods attempted to build a poultry processing plant in northeast Kansas before getting pushback from the community. The Tyson case resulted in a bidding war for the plant between states like Kansas and Nebraska. Ultimately, Tyson opted to build the new plant in Tennessee.