Turkey feedlot expansion will be discussed by county commission

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 12/15/99.

The potential change in operation and increase in animal units at an Earl B. Olson Farms (EBO) turkey feedlot west of Paynesville will be addressed at a public hearing before the Stearns County Planning Commission tomorrow night at 7 p.m. The hearing will be held in the County Board Room of the County Administration Center at 705 Courthouse Square in St. Cloud.

Rides to the hearing are being organized by Jeanette Kulzer, a neighbor of the EBO property. She can be reached at 320-276-8235. Written testimony may be submitted to: Stearns County Environmental Services Department, Administration Center, Room 343, 705 Courthouse Square, St. Cloud, MN, 56303.

EBO wants to change the farm--which is located in the northeast corner of Section 19 of Paynesville Township (just north of Highway 23 less than a mile west of the Paynesville city limits)--from a grow-out facility to a farm with brooder birds. Right now, six-week-old turkeys are brought to the farm and grown to market size over 13 to 16 weeks. Brooder turkeys are only a day old and would be kept on the property for about six weeks.

Currently, the farm can handle 26,000 full-size birds, which comes out to 468 animal units at 0.018 a.u. per bird. The proposed facility would hold 88,000 smaller birds, which at present also count at 0.018 a.u. per bird. This would result in 1,584 animal units, an increase of 1,016 animal units.

That level of animal units forces the project to get a conditional use permit from the county. The county feedlot ordinance requires a permit when expansion or modification occurs in a feedlot of more than 500 animal units or when a feedlot exceeds 300 animal units and is located within one mile of the city limits.

The project will also need a permit from Paynesville Township because it exceeds 500 animal units. And because it is an increase of over 1,000 animal units, the state requires the completion of an Environmental Assessment Worksheet.

The project would include the remodeling of the existing barns and the addition of a 72' by 400' barn to the north side. "We've looked at it," said John Kolstad, who works in the feedlot unit for the Stearns County Environmental Services Department. "It meets all the requirements of our ordinance. Even with the expansion, they aren't getting any closer to the city."

The farm is located 3,184 feet from the city limits. Because it was registered under the county's feedlot ordinance, its setbacks were grandfathered in, according to Kolstad, who added that residential houses have received variances to build closer to the facility.

Opposition to the conditional use permit, Kolstad said, would have to be based on specific reasons pertaining to the ordinance.

Dennis Anderson of EBO Farms said their goal at the hearing is to gain permission to keep moving ahead with the permit process, and not to receive final approval for the project. The EAW may need to be completed before final approval would be given.

EBO Farms could try to get a variance to relieve them of the EAW requirement. Kolstad and Anderson noted that the state animal unit definitions are expected to change next summer. Presently, every turkey is considered 0.018 animal units, regardless of its size. Under the proposed changes, brooder turkeys would count for only 0.005 animal units.

Stearns County uses the state definitions, so after the reduction they would consider the feedlot as having only 440 animal units. "When the rules change, they'll be actually dropping their animal units," said Kolstad.

The township would have to amend its definitions if they want to adopt the new animal rule definitions. Without the change, the feedlot would exceed the 500 animal unit limit in the township and would need a variance from the township board.

Anderson admitted that the project might be easier if the new rules were in effect. "It would be much simpler if we would wait," he said. But he added that the company wanted to move forward and has nothing to hide. He hoped the public meeting would be a positive step by explaining their proposal to their neighbors. "A lot of us would be nervous until we understand the details," he said.

The modified and expanded feedlot would be quieter, cleaner, and have less odor, according to Anderson and Kolstad. Bringing turkeys to market requires semi-trailers, which typically come in the middle of the night in order to deliver turkeys to market in the morning. Instead, Anderson said, the brooder turkeys could all be moved to a different farm in a half day using tractors, trucks, and trailers.

The farm hasn't used open range for several years, according to Anderson, and the new barn would be a total confinement facility. Brooder turkeys produce less litter, he said, and consequently less smell. When the brooder birds are moved, their litter (wood shavings) will be taken with them to another site.

In between batches of turkeys, Anderson said, the farm will be completely cleaned and sanitized.

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