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The Oklahoma State Board of Agriculture on Monday suspended the acceptance of applications for new poultry farms and additions to existing farms.

In response to the dozens of new or expanding chicken farms planned for development in eastern Oklahoma in the past year, the state issued a news release informing the public of the temporary freeze in effect until state and tribal officials assess the scope of the situation.

Much of the new development on the books is attributed to Siloam Springs-based chicken producer Simmons Foods. Oklahoma's Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry records show that 144 of the new or expanding chicken houses permitted to raise chickens in the state within the past year are listed to grow for Simmons.

"At this present time, there is only one application pending," Secretary of Agriculture Jim Reese said in the release. "Therefore we find it timely to pause and temporarily suspend accepting applications."

The pause comes after the Coordinating Council on Poultry Growth met for the first time in Catoosa, Okla., on Sept. 28. The council was formed last month by the Cherokee Nation and the state of Oklahoma so business leaders, researchers, politicians and community leaders can evaluate the effects of the growth in poultry farming and address issues that stem from it.

"We basically went around and talked about concerns and one of the answers was to begin to implement some things that might take a while," Reese said. "The purpose of this was to take a pause and make sure we weren't affecting anything in a negative way."

The number of poultry farms cropping up in eastern Oklahoma has in recent months drawn the attention of neighbors and county officials concerned about the water table, property values, road damage from hauling chickens and odors. The news release said the Agriculture Department is hopeful a pause "allows for discussions to avoid another 'boom and bust' impact that Oklahoma knows so well."

Pam Kingfischer, administrator of advocacy group Spring Creek Guardians, said she supported the news on Monday. The group is named after the 34-mile creek that flows throughout counties affected by recent poultry house expansion.

"I'm happy they made a real positive step toward looking at this," Kingfischer said. "I'm happy the council is taking real action and listening to us."

Before the state's suspension, she submitted a petition with 400 handwritten signatures seeking a moratorium on state activity related to water wells and poultry house construction. She said she plans to submit another similar petition with 600 online participants this week.

"I hope they look back in the last month or so and revoke some of the applications," Kingfischer said. "They only have one pending and there's quite a few who were approved in the last few months."

One of the goals of the committee is to assess how many farms are necessary to supply a new Simmons Foods plant, Reese said.

"Everyone knows Simmons is expanding," he said.

Simmons Foods plans to ramp up its new chicken plant in Benton County next year.

The new plant's location is less than 10 miles from the Oklahoma-Arkansas state border. Simmons sent a statement last month in support of the new poultry council with emphasis on the growers being an integral part of the council.

"We thought it might be a good time to pause and make certain that we have the proper structure to allow the poultry industry to grow and upgrade and do efficiency that needs to be done in a structured environment," Reese said. "We want to be good neighbors."

General News on 10/10/2018

Print Headline: Oklahoma board freezes poultry permits

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