At first blush, the concept of bringing in a business that could likely employ 1,600 people in Leavenworth County seems like a no-brainer, but apparently a lot of people have looked deeper into the prospects of a poultry operation and did not like what they found.

We recently made the drive from Lake Michigan through Minnesota and Iowa and passed through areas where we saw plenty of those large buildings that house the millions of chickens and turkeys that we all love to eat. I would not say that it looked like a terrible use of the land, but I can say that if we had a poultry processing plant in the area, it would definitely change the aesthetics of the entire region.

I believe the numbers offered are that it would require 100 to 200 of those large poultry houses all located within a 50-mile radius of the processing plant. While I can imagine the plant could conceivably handle all of the environmental concerns and spend the cash and effort to ensure environmental safety, I am not certain they could guarantee all of those private contract operators could do the same.

The waste produced from the animals needed to supply 1.5 million birds per week is beyond my ability to picture. The manure will be mostly produced on those privately-owned lands and only a small percentage of that nutrient-rich product will be produced at the processing plant. 

I will say we did not see any piles of chicken or turkey feathers piled up along the roadways and we drove the entire route by county roads right through the poultry raising regions. I don’t know if topography has much effect on the contract houses, but virtually all of the region that we experienced was a lot flatter than the land in Leavenworth County.

One of the depressing aspects of living in a poultry producing area is that you have to also grow a lot of corn and soybeans to feed those birds. The history of industrial agriculture is not something to brag about when it comes to fertilizer and pesticide use/abuse and the general abuse of the land through poor farming practices that result in erosion.

Leavenworth County topography is a bit hilly. I like how our landowners generally manage their lands which seem to sustain the soil and not have erosion problems. Converting the entire county to GMO crops that use pesticide-coated seeds and dangerous fertilizers that will probably leach into our streams and ponds is not what I want to see. I prefer the smaller operations that have a few cows with a few smaller dairy farms because they keep a lot of the land in pasture instead of in annual GMO crops like corn and beans.

Environmentally speaking, we are in a bad time frame with this administration. They have recently brought on a new Region 7 EPA director who, according to the Kansas City Star, has a record of favoring industry polluters. We know the national EPA director also has a terrible record of filing lawsuits against the EPA in Oklahoma. A major poultry processor could likely operate an environmentally sound plant if they wanted to, but in our present national environment, I am not certain that I would trust them to operate cleanly since they probably sense that they could get away with polluting our region with no serious consequences.

So, in the big picture, I would blame the administration and its track record for the hostile attitude in Leavenworth County against a major poultry processing operation. I don’t wish the same features on anyone else in Kansas or Nebraska, but I also don’t want to risk the environmental concerns here in Leavenworth County. Just make sure that you buy from a local chicken producer that you trust – or eat less chicken.

Matt Nowak is a retired natural resources specialist and lives in Lansing.