In response to Ms. Sweeney's letter

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dear Editor:

What a wonderful country we live in, warts and all. Long live the boisterous minority, I'm often a member of it. Glad to let to you know what I think and to use my name, which will be no surprise to anyone who knows me.

After working with the commercial poultry people for 30 years, I still have nothing but admiration and respect for them. The poultry industry is one of the most forward-looking, embracing new and better ways of doing things, of any industry.

To speak to the concerns you raise; parks and lakes are free of (I don't want to repeat them) the liabilities you mention at the hands of the poultry industry. For instance, Arkansas is one of the most beautiful states in the union while simultaneously hosting one of the highest populations of commercially-raised broilers, turkeys and egg facilities in the lower 48. The big companies have required growers to abide by very specific rules regarding the environment and growers are visited monthly by their "flock supervisor" who checks on all conditions of their agreement, advising them if necessary.

Few people object to placement of a gas station (underground petroleum tanks, hopefully not leaking), homeowner septic tanks and even take pleasure in golf courses and sod farms (intensely fertilized with chemicals) near a state park. If not handled correctly, any of these could be a far greater potential threat than this producer's four chicken houses.

Have you ever visited one? First the floor will be either compacted dirt or concrete. Then concrete foundations 12-inches high on the sides, followed by mesh sides with plastic curtains to raise/lower for ventilation, topped by a metal roof. Chickens are raised inside on 6-8 inches of wood shavings or rice hulls, either is referred to as "litter."

Since they're planning to raise pullets (not full grown birds), the litter they produce will be about one-third the nutritive value of a regular broiler house. So, although it doesn't have much value as fertilizer, it is still excellent "tilth" (old English relating to the structure/quality of cultivated soil. A soil - or person - in "good tilth" was said to be "in good heart".) You will find several "tilth" societies listed on the 'net, all belonging to sustainable groups. Tilth relates to how hard-packed or workable a soil is.

When regular poultry houses put in fresh shavings, the nutrient content of the used litter is calculated, the nutrient need of the pasture (what is the intake need of the crop) calculated and litter applied accordingly. Litter cannot be applied under several conditions, rain or snow being an example, nor can you apply within 300 feet of even a "losing stream" (one which disappears underground) or 100 feet from a visible waterway. The truck drivers who do this have been to "litter-hauling school" and are certified.

I suppose one of the chicks could escape, walk one and a half miles to the river to relieve himself -- assuming he made it past the 'coons, foxes, hawks and coyotes. How on earth could this pose a threat to Roaring River State Park, even if the chicken houses were built on the banks of the river?

Missouri is a beautiful place, southwest Missouri especially, whose vibrant agricultural sector is already controlled with the most stringent environmental regulations of any state. And the reason for that is that in the past, some producers did it right and some didn't.

After a driving trip out west earlier this year, I realized again how lucky we are to have the resources for food self-sufficiency, and excess to sell to those who don't, who live in those dry windswept areas out there, and those wall-to-wall urban people out east.

When I was born, my dad drove a truck from Shelbina to St. Louis, picking up crates of chickens from the train station who'd been raised in Illinois, hauling them to back for processing by Producers Produce and Creamery (later MFA). Agriculture in general has grown in wisdom and stature since that time, 73 years ago. Small farmers find their own markets, large companies find large markets. Locally produced is wonderful, so is shipping it off to feed the world.

Let us find issues to be boisterous about which truly need attention and simultaneously give thanks to the farmers of the world, big and small, near and far.


Jo Manhart

Missouri Egg Council

Columbia, Missouri