Americans want good, safe food, but they don’t want to smell the process. That might best describe the growing tensions between Valley Oaks Steak Company and its neighbors in western Missouri.
Seeking to expand its cattle feeding and processing operation near Lone Jack, MO, about 30 miles southeast of Kansas City, Valley Oaks applied to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for a permit to increase from the current 900 head to 6,999. Under Missouri rules, only feedlots with 7,000 head or more are required to submit an odor plan.
On Tuesday, the Department of Natural Resources held a public hearing in Warrensburg on the application, drawing hundreds of residents. Many local farmers and ranchers turned out in support of Valley Oaks, as did many other neighbors who oppose the company’s expansion.
One of Valley Oaks neighbors is Powell Gardens, a 970-acre botanical gardens in Kingsville, MO. Powell Gardens includes a nature trail, wildflower meadows and a woodland chapel used for weddings.
"We're very concerned about groundwater and any runoff, just water in general, and how it could affect the gardens," said Powell Gardens Director Tabitha Schmidt. Powell Gardens provided free bus rides to anyone seeking to attend Tuesday’s hearing.
Opponents of Valley Oaks expansion also voiced concerns about air quality, buffer zones, pollution, carcinogens, and property values.
Valley Oaks also had supporters at the event. During a press conference held before the public hearing, Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Region 5 vice president Bruce Mershon said,
"A family farm called Valley Oaks is trying to do what every family farm aspires to do. They're trying to expand,” said Missouri Cattlemen’s Association Region 5 vice president Bruce Mershon during a press conference before the event.
"This is about advancing Missouri agriculture. The average herd size in this state is 36 head, but yet we are the second-largest beef cow state in the nation with more beef cattle farms than any other state besides Texas,” Mershon said. “Our association represents family farms all across the state and we aren't afraid to stand firm for the member with 10 cows or 10,000."
Johnson County Cattlemen’s Association president Kenny Smarr said agriculture will need to produce “more food in the next 40 years than in the previous 10,000 years combined. If we have any hope of meeting that challenge, we have to repopulate the land with the next generation.”
The owners of Valley Oaks, Smarr said, “is just one example of family farmers and ranchers working to take their small business to the next level. This family is on a quest to meet growing demands for locally raised beef in the greater Kansas City area. Instead of trucking the cattle out-of-state to be fed and processed, this family wants to keep that value right here in Missouri.”
Regarding neighbors fears of environmental damage, Mershon said, “the line is clear. No manure or other nutrients from Valley Oaks are allowed to enter any water of Missouri. Period. This applies to the feedlot and processing facility. All parts of the production area will be under roof ensuring no run off comes from the facility."
The Department of Natural Resources says they'll make their decision on Valley Oaks permit request in two to three weeks.