LETTER: Poultry Houses - Good Neighbors for Laurens County
I feel compelled to respond to the recent rash of complaints of proposed new chicken houses being built in Laurens County. First of all, I do not expect to change anyone’s mind. Most people have strong opinions on this subject, but I think facts should outweigh emotion.
My family has been involved in the chicken business for over 60 years. We were one of the first chicken farms in Laurens County. When I was young, I would wake up every morning to the sounds of roosters crowing and hens clucking. Our land had been depleted by years of cotton farming and erosion. We took the litter from the chicken houses and applied it to the land every year. Our land became more fertile and we had neighbors begging for the litter to improve their land. The income from the chickens allowed my mother to be a stay-at-home mom. She looked after the chickens while my father travelled 3 states as a poultry consultant, i.e. chicken doctor. Our property was less than one mile from the city limits of Laurens. There was never a complaint.
Since graduating from college, my wife and I have lived in some of the most concentrated broiler producing areas in this country:
- Wicomico County, Maryland - 11 million chickens/year
- Cullman County, Alabama - 14 million chickens/year
• Whitfield County, Georgia – 4 million chickens/year
In our own state of South Carolina, Lexington and Oconee Counties produce over 6 million broilers each per year. In contrast, Laurens County produces a little over 1 million chickens per year. All my numbers come from the 2012 Ag Census. These are the latest figures available.
My point is Laurens County is in its infancy as far as poultry production. In the past, Laurens Glass, Laurens Mill, Watts Mill, Clinton Mills, Greenwood Mills, Torrington/Timken and others provided good jobs for Laurens County residents. Most of these companies are gone, along with the thousands of jobs they provided.
Many of the most scenic and desirable areas in the country are some of the most concentrated in broiler production. An example is Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where many of the Amish live, produces almost 10 million chickens per year. Our own Oconee County is one of the most scenic in South Carolina. Most areas with high concentrations of poultry production have excellent schools and government services. The poultry industry pays billions in wages, taxes, and producer payments. In addition, they buy millions of bushels of locally produced grain. The application of poultry litter to the land enhances the yields of these grains. Contrary to popular belief, land values in areas with poultry houses are far greater than areas without poultry. The opportunity to build an income producing building to pay off the land is enticing and makes economic sense for many farmers.
Poultry houses today are nothing like the crude structures of my youth. They are totally enclosed and use the most advanced systems for feeding, watering, heating and cooling. Computers control the temperature and ventilation day and night as well as monitor feed and water consumption. Improvements in breeding, housing, ventilation and feeding allow a chicken to reach 7-8 pounds in 8 weeks. 30 years ago the birds only weighed 4 lbs. in the same amount of time. The companies who furnish the chickens to the producers in Laurens County, Amick Farms and Columbia Farms, have a vested interest in being good neighbors. Their employees visit the farms each week to check on the general management and health of the flock. In addition, the farms are constantly monitored by DHEC for any permit violations.
Farming in Laurens County is very difficult. Our land is poor. The national average of corn production is 175 bushels/acre. A prominent local farmer once told me the best yield of corn he ever had was 65 bushels/ acre. The norm for Laurens County is more like 40 bushels/acre. Broiler production opens up many opportunities for local farmers to survive and thrive. Other businesses spring up from broiler production like construction, shavings production, insurance, clean out services, propane suppliers, hauling services, equipment suppliers, etc. The application of poultry litter to the land will eventually improve the yields of corn, soybeans and other feed grains. It is a good example of the “circle of life”.
My advice to those who do not want to have a poultry farm near them is to live in an incorporated part of the county. Laurens County has no formal zoning outside the cities. If a farmer wants to build a poultry house and he/she follows all the state mandated requirements, he/she is entitled to build the house(s). Sometimes a technicality can be found to temporarily stop the building, but in most cases the houses are eventually built. The counties cannot pass laws that supersede the state mandates. Just for information, South Carolina has some of the toughest requirements in the Southeast for permits to build poultry houses. This is one reason South Carolina has been slower than other states in poultry house construction. South Carolina produces approximately 44 million chickens per year while our neighboring states of Georgia and North Carolina produce 243 million and 148 million respectively. In addition to chickens, North Carolina produces 17 million turkeys and 9 million hogs.
I would encourage you to embrace the poultry industry and even to investigate the opportunities it may provide your family. We need to keep our farming community healthy to provide more food as populations increase.
A footnote: for those who may say our business is dependent on these new houses, I want to point out less than 3% of our business comes from the state of South Carolina and less than .01% is from Laurens County. The final outcome will have little effect on our business.
Sincerely, Mike Little
Agricultural Mfg. & Textiles, Inc.
1451 Stagecoach Road Laurens, SC 29360