The Pryor (OK) Daily Times
Last modified Wednesday, July 6, 2005 12:38 PM CDT
Farmers say property rights being overlooked
By Clarice Doyle
The Daily Times
State officials are claiming the latest move by Attorney General Drew Edmondson to require soil sampling on private poultry farms is all in the interest of clean water.
But, poultry growers are crying foul.
"It is a property rights issue, not a soil testing issue," said Bev Saunders.
Saunders and husband Al grow broilers for Peterson Farms on their Colcord ranch in Delaware County.
The Saunders are one of 15 sites singled out for extensive soil testing by the Department of Agriculture under order from the Attorney General's office.
At least two growers believe this move is being done in an effort to bolster the Attorney General's federal lawsuit against 14 poultry companies, including Arkansas-based integrator Tyson Foods Inc. Peterson is also named in the lawsuit.
The Saunders as well as Craig County grower Steve Bryan said they have no problem with Department of Agriculture inspectors coming onto their land and testing for potassium, phosphorus and nitrogen - elements Senate Bill 1170 specifically regulates.
"We have openly expressed and even invited them to do that," Saunders said. But, "this is a witch hunt," she said.
"No one in the United States would allow such a warrantless search on their personal property, homes or business," Saunders said.
Rumors that several poultry growers in northeast Oklahoma had been selected for extensive soil-sampling were circulating as early as April of this year. Terry Peach, state agriculture secretary, met with a group at the Northeast Technology Center campus in Kansas (Okla.) in May.
The Saunders said after the "selected farmers" were contacted by agriculture department inspectors to explain the testing and sampling program, the farmers "started talking to each other."
"It was clear that the farmers elected for the testing were/are in the Illinois River watershed," Saunders said.
All 15 of the targeted growers are members of the newly organized Poultry Partners group which now claims around 325 members.
Saunders said the extensive testing being presented by the Department of Agriculture calls for 300 plus samples to be taken in each of three different 10-acre fields from each farm. The probes will be up to six inches deep and samples will be sent for testing in around the nation.
Saunders said farmers request for "split soil samples" for their own testing were denied.
Agriculture official Dan Parrish responded in writing to the request stating that a representative from the Poultry Partners would be allowed to go to Colorado to observe lab testing for 34 parameters.
"Now how many poultry farmers - who have a 24-hour, seven-day a week job just raising the birds - could take off and go to Colorado to watch a lab test?" Saunders said.
Saunders and other growers say they "have nothing to hide."
Bryan, who grows for Tyson, said he already does monthly soil sampling as required by state law.
"I take 26 individual soil samples on my farm from my individual fields, annually." Bryan said current Oklahoma laws as reflected in SB1170 are the most comprehensive, restrictive legislation concerning poultry waste in the nation.
"But, that has not satisfied the Attorney General," Bryan said. "The people we sent to Oklahoma City passed these laws and passed them to the Department of Agriculture and said now enforce it, but that has not satisfied Mr. Edmondson."
"We haven't had (Senate Bill 1170, passed in 1998) in effect long enough to see the effects ... we are saying give it time," Bryan said.
"Litter is just a small part of this phosphorus overload and we are the ones who have been singled out. Arkansas has taken an historical step; anything over two acres must come under a management plan. Oklahoma has refused to do it, instead they have targeted the poultry industry."
Bryan said the key to any possible pollution problem is "excess litter."
"But we don't want to see the farmers who don't have a problem penalized," Bryan said.
Bryan said that if the attorney general gets a settlement of the magnitude he is seeking "several small companies will go out of business ... bankrupt ... or the largest company buys them up and you have no competition." None of which, Bryan believes, will be good for the individual grower or consumer.
Bryan and Saunders agreed to speak out publicly because they believe the the attorney general and some of the Tulsa media are not listening to their side of the story.
Bryan said after the Orange Bowl spots aired in support of the poultry growers earlier this year, he spoke to the attorney general.
"(Edmondson) was livid. He said you people are tainting the prospective jury pool. I said with all due respect, you and the Tulsa World have been tainting the jury pool for the last three years.
"We have first amendment rights too. We are going loud, hard and as long as we can go. We can not lose our farms.
"We can't roll over on this," Bryan said. "We admit if the practices we do if not properly managed can cause a small part of this problem. But, we want everyone (who fertilizes) put under some kind of guidelines and laws then we won't be the only ones doing this."
Saunders agrees. Her family has a long history in the poultry industry. Her father and grandfather raised broilers. She and her husband bought their farm near Colcrod just four years ago. Up until then they had a cattle operation.
"Clean water issue began back in 1998 and became very public when City of Tulsa sued the industry," Saunders said. "It has been in the forefront, the phosphorus issue since that time.
"The farmers are very concerned about the clean water also. The water is on our farms. Most have well water, spring water and that sort of thing. We have been very actively working to improve water quality for some time," Saunders said.
She said a lot of components make up pollution and even if we completely shut down litter in the watershed there would still be pollution in the waterways.
"Until all the pollution is scrutinized, no one will find the answer they are looking for," Saunders said.