During election years in Kansas, it is expected that agricultural issues can be discussed. But not until this year had the poultry industry ever entered the conversation.
However, with the primary elections just around the corner, poultry farms and Tyson Foods seem to continually come up.
After Tyson Foods announced that it would build a new poultry complex in the Leavenworth County town of Tonganoxie, a public outcry followed. Following that outcry came a reversal of support from local elected officials, and Tyson Foods abandoned its plans in favor of building the complex in Tennessee. However, it was determined that in other parts of Kansas – specifically Cloud County and Montgomery County – a poultry complex would be welcomed. Those counties worked with the Kansas Department of Agriculture (KDA) to draft proposals to attract a poultry complex.
Also, as a result of the Tyson proposal and outcry, the state drafted and approved Senate Bill 405, which set guidelines for future poultry farms to be located in the state. Under the legislation, which passed poultry barns in Kansas could not be closer than a quarter of a mile from an occupied home, excluding a homestead located on the same property with the chicken barns. The bill also would require farms with more than 125,000 broilers or 82,000 layers to obtain a federal permit.
Gov. Jeff Colyer signed the piece of legislation on March 20.
Where Republican candidates stand
The two perceived front-runners for the Republican nomination for governorship are incumbent Colyer and Attorney General Kris Kobach.
Colyer was still lieutenant governor under Gov. Sam Brownback when the Tyson proposal was announced and when other KDA-assisted proposals were made. But he moved into the governorship when Brownback took a new job with the federal government, which put him in the position to sign Senate Bill 405 into law. He did so, which means he is seen as supportive of expanded poultry production in Kansas.
Kobach is seen as much less supportive of the poultry industry.
In fact, in an opinion piece published in the Kansas City Star, Kobach wrote that Tyson would probably employ “hundreds of unauthorized alien workers,” and added, “Fortunately, the citizens of Tonganoxie stopped the project.”
The only other Republican candidate considered to have a viable chance at winning is Kansas Insurance Commissioner Ken Selzer. His main concern with poultry industry development is that Leavenworth County and Tyson Foods should have been more transparent with the plans, he told the High Plains Journal, though he acknowledged that some degree of confidentiality should be expected.
Democratic candidates and poultry issues
The three most visible candidates on the Democratic ticket are State Sen. Laura Kelly, former Kansas Agriculture Secretary Josh Svaty and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer.
Kelly voted against Senate Bill 405.
Svaty, who is seen as the candidate appealing to voters with a rural or agricultural background, shared with the High Plains Journal similar views as Selzer about how the Tyson proposal should have been handled with more transparency.
Brewer has remained mosty quiet on the subject.