Oregon will likely soon have two new large-scale chicken operations — one in the Scio-Jefferson area, the other in Aumsville.
Poultry producers contracted with Foster Farms plan to raise millions of broiler chickens at the operations. Proponents say the new sites will expand Northwest chicken production, meet demand for locally produced protein and boost profits for contracted poultry growers.
But some locals, including neighboring farmers, fear the mega-operations will damage good soil, ruin views, pollute water and air and hurt surrounding property values.
Christina Eastman, 56, a Scio resident, called the expansions an “abomination.”
Eric Simon, 51, a longtime poultry farmer, will run the Scio operation. Simon owns Ideal AG Supply, a dairy and poultry equipment company. In Brownsville, Ore., Simon has also been a contract grower for Foster Farms since 2000.
Simon, knowing Foster Farms has been looking to expand, said he hoped to enlarge his own contract with the company, but finding the right property wasn’t easy because it needed to be large, relatively secluded and have level ground, water rights and close proximity to Interstate 5.
Then a property at 37225 Jefferson-Scio Drive went up for sale.
“When we found this place, it was a diamond,” he said.
With Foster Farms’ go-ahead, Simon recently purchased the property, where he plans to build 12 poultry houses, each 60-by-600-feet.
Robert Wheeldon, director of Linn County Planning and Building Department, said he approved Simon’s building applications.
“These are going to be state-of-the-art facilities,” said Simon.
Simon also filed a Confined Animal Feeding Operation, or CAFO, application with Oregon Department of Agriculture.
Andrea Cantu-Schomus, ODA spokeswoman, said her agency received the application last August.
The permit would allow Simon to run 3.5 million birds annually — 580,000 birds per flock, six flocks per year. Simon said he’ll probably raise closer to 540,000 birds per flock.
At full capacity, according to ODA, the operation would produce about 4,500 tons of manure annually, to be sold as an organic soil amendment.
Simon said the manure will never be kept outside.
“We’re following every rule, above and beyond,” he said.
The CAFO permit will go up for public review soon. Simon expects to start building in May or June.
The proposed site does not include a kill plant. Simon said his poultry will be processed in Kelso, Wash., and sold mostly in Northwest grocery stores.
Foster Farms did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this story.
Simon said the project will support his family, create five jobs and boost local tax revenue.
But his project is unpopular. Across Scio this spring, lawns are dotted with hundreds of signs: “No factory chicken farm in our community!”
Eastman, the Scio resident, formed a group called “Farmers against Foster Farms.”
Eastman is caretaker for her family’s 300 acres of multi-generational farms, three of which are adjacent to the site.
She’s worried about smells, sounds and pollution and said she’s “heartbroken” a piece of fertile land will be lost to large-scale farming.
Simon, the poultry farmer, said, “We want to be good neighbors.”
According to people familiar with the matter, another contract grower for Foster Farms plans to build a large-scale operation near Aumsville at Porter Family Farm, a Century Farm homesteaded in 1848.
“I feel there are other places they could’ve chosen,” said Teresa Anderson, 55, who lives next to the proposed Aumsville site. “Just because it’s lawful, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.”
Permitting has yet to begin at Aumsville.
Cantu-Schomus of ODA said her department has “received some calls and emails regarding a proposed poultry facility in Marion County, yet ODA has no application to date.”