Demand for poultry meat and eggs is high in the U.S. After a few tough years, broiler, turkey and egg producers are looking to expand. I have followed developments in Sanderson Farms’ search for a home for a proposed second North Carolina broiler complex over the past few years as well as Sonstegard Foods’ desire to build a new 6 million-layer inline complex in South Dakota which became public just recently. Both companies have encountered significant local opposition from the NIMBY (not in my backyard) crowds at the potential expansion sites.
Given the fact that South Dakota and North Carolina are what I would consider to be animal agriculture friendly, I have been a little surprised that the opposition to these projects is as strong as it appears in press coverage. I realize that NIMBY forces have had success deterring politicians from approving, and developers from proceeding with, development projects in just about every part of the U.S. and in many other countries. These “successes” encourage residents in other localities to organize and try and do the same thing in their own communities, and I certainly can’t discount the role that the media can play in these little soap operas. Let’s face it, controversy brings eyeballs. Audience members, regardless of whether they support the economic development, are drawn to reporting on these projects, because of legitimate news value and because the associated public hearings can become a drama unto themselves.
So, I understand to a degree why these projects seem to attract opponents like moths to a flame, but I think there might be something else the industry should consider as well. Because of technological advancements and economies of scale, new poultry complexes have gotten really large and somewhat difficult for the general public to put into proper context. Let’s face it, 6 million hens in one location or a half million broilers processed per day sounds like an awful lot of birds, even to people who are pro-animal agriculture.
My guess is that projects of this size are going to require very large buffers to be considered acceptable to local residents. The problem is finding land that is considered far enough away from everyone yet still has the necessary access to power, water, labor and good roads.
Once poultry complexes have been built, the local community tends to take the positive impact the operation has on the local economy for granted, and you only tend to hear about the negatives associated with the operation. Many times, NIMBY concerns expressed by local residents are unfounded, but they still have to be dealt with. I am not sure what weight a poultry company should give to local opposition to a proposed new operation, but it certainly has to be factored into the site choice equation. I wouldn’t want frivolous concerns to force a poultry company to decide to pass on what would otherwise be the best site for a new operation, but I also wouldn’t want a poultry company to move into a neighborhood where it isn't welcomed with open arms. In the long run, it is far better to be wanted than just tolerated.