Kiger: OK Foods losing favor in county

We appreciate the poultry industry being in LeFlore County and creating many great paying jobs and adding to our county economy, but the people of LeFlore County are well on our way to experiencing what other states and people who live close to the new larger industrial size poultry farms with barns have been dealing with for years.

These issues include more odor and noise and additional trucks on our county roads, as well as concerns related to health effects from the air and water quality, and home owners seeing their property values be reduced when a large farm moves too close.

OK Foods in LeFlore County is now approving larger industrial sized poultry farms with up to eight barns. Each barn is capable of housing approximately 33,000 to 40,000 birds and each farm can have over 180 exhaust fans each and will use millions of gallons of rural water per month. These houses are drastically different from the traditional small family farms of two to four barns that the county has seen for decades, and we understand that industry must change with the times.

A representative of OK Foods told me that it now takes up to eight of these large barns for a farm to have cash flow today.

The new barn farms being developed in LeFlore County are approximately 54 feet wide and 550 feet in length, but the real problem in our county is the issue of too many farms being concentrated so close together near one community that OK Foods has approved.

OK Foods has approved 56 new large barns to be built around the community of Cameron and a housing addition just south of the community. The community has already accepted several smaller family farm operations located nearby, but adding the 56 larger barns would be too much and too close for this community to live with.

People from this community are coming together to try to protect their town, and many other in LeFlore County are joining their efforts.

Members of the community sent a letter and later met with officials of OK Foods. OK Foods showed no interest in stopping nor moving the construction farther away from their community, and even assured them that the new barns have no odor and their properties will not lose value. This small group of people has now grown to become over 2,000 individuals who signed the petition to stop the building of the remaining 48 barns being constructed so close to their town.

With other poultry companies in eastern Oklahoma building even larger barns that extend out to 650 feet in length, change for better regulating locations of the poultry industries new larger mega farms close to rural communities is long overdue. Rural counties in Oklahoma do not have the rules in place to stop the building of these large farms close to communities. New regulations on integrators locating these new larger farms must come soon before the quality of life in many Oklahoma communities is destroyed forever.

These new mega farms aren't the small mom and pop family farms that have been the backbone of the poultry industry. They are industrial size complexes and should be looked at by regulators as a large industrial type operation.

State regulators in all the poultry producing states can see what we are seeing clearly as well and they know the outcome these new mega farms will have on our communities also. Oklahoma approved new set back rules that focused on distances between a farm and neighbor's structure, but regulations did not consider the distance between a farm and a town.

Regulators in Oklahoma are acting too slow to pump the brakes hard on what it's doing to our communities, property owners and our environment, and there has been no consideration related to where these monstrous barns are being built in relation to communities, housing additions, food establishments and medical facilities as we are seeing in our county and region.

When leaders don't respond by doing the right things, we as a state and nation are failing our citizens. When leaders fail the people, it forces peaceful people to rise up and take uncommon actions that we would rather not have to take, and while all of this disagreement is going on, it's running and disrupting the lives of many hard working and family loving Oklahomans.

The nation is seeing more communities and neighbors with farms too close winning law suits over integrators. I believe all of this can be avoided by OK Foods putting more thought to where they approve these farms to be built. In this situation of the community of Cameron, OK Foods caused these problems by not paying attention to approving farms being built so close to a town and school in LeFlore County, and now so close to a restaurant and veteran's center to be constructed in our neighboring county.

It's time for Oklahoma to become a leader and it's time for the poultry industry to meet us in working together. In LeFlore County, we want the poultry industry here, but not at the cost of our families and all we've worked for throughout our lives. As people only trying to protect what we own and love, we will not allow the industry to continue without striking back proportionally.

Let's avoid this fight and learn to trust each other and begin working together, as the poultry industry will still be able to earn profits and meet contractual requirements. In LeFlore County, the poultry industry has been an honored member of our community by creating great jobs and futures for many small family farmers, but with the new larger farms being located in close proximity to towns and squeezing out the traditional small family farmer, OK Foods is quickly losing favor in LeFlore County.

We as a county don't want OK Foods to lose favor with the people living in LeFlore County and being considered a good corporate citizen in the poultry industry is still possible. Although, with the approvals of these 56 houses and a total of 114 being approved around LeFlore County, OK Foods is quickly losing favor with county people, as well as with many city and county leaders. 

Senator Mark Allen and I will meet with state regulators this week to begin the process of trying to plead the case for regulating these large buildings and farms as an industry. 


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