YORK – Following a public hearing Tuesday morning, the York County Commissioners agreed to a conditional use permit for Hirschfeld Family Farms for a contract chicken-raising operation with a capacity of 760,000 broilers.
Because of the number of chickens that will be raised at the operation in rural York County, a conditional use permit was required, per the county’s zoning regulations.
This will be a 16-house contract broiler facility that will be housed under roof and will not include any constructed waste storage structures.
It was explained in the Hirschfelds’ application that the litter (manure) from the facility will be stored in the production houses and then removed and land-applied as crop nutrients at the end of the flock periods. The nutrient product will primarily be applied to cropland by custom contractors with solid litter spreaders. It was noted that Hirschfelds have 5,427 acres available for litter (manure) application.
Managers of the operation will be responsible for raising and caring for the broilers in the houses. The chickens will be in the houses for a period of six weeks – at the end of that six weeks, the chickens will be collected and then transported to the Lincoln Premium Poultry facility in Fremont where they will then be processed. Meanwhile, the chicken houses on the Hirschfeld property will remain empty for a two-week period – during which the litter inside the barns will be composted and then spread back out to be used as litter for the next flock of birds.
This operation will receive approximately six flocks of chickens per year.
It was noted by York County Zoning Administrator Benjamin Dennis that it is estimated that the operation will produce approximately 5,472 tons of solid litter annually. These are estimates and will vary depending on annual stocking rates, facility rations, and timing of litter removal. All chicken litter removed from the houses will be applied in a manner that minimizes potential for water pollution – as indicated in the Hirschfelds’ application. Accumulated litter will be removed from all houses, the product will be sampled and tested and applied in an agronomic manner.
The Hirschfelds’ application also addresses what will happen with dead chickens – as there is always a certain degree of mortality rate with any livestock production operation. They say the primary method of carcass disposal is composting and the secondary method is burial. “Mortalities will be transferred directly from the houses to the compost bin. There will be no temporary storage area. The composting area for mortalities will be placed under roof so that runoff does not affect waters of the state.”
The facility will be located on a plot measuring 160 acres.
Dennis told the commissioners the application was recommended for approval by the county’s planning commission and the facility, as designed, would meet all the county’s setback regulations.
“The planning commission met Aug. 22, they analyzed the application with the recommended conditions,” Dennis told the county board members. “Since the county’s zoning regulations were amended in 2015, we have had four other livestock facilities in the county start or expand because their numbers were under the 2,500 animal unit allowance and they could be directly approved by the zoning administrator. What makes this different is the number of capacity units.
“The county’s regulations say if the application complies with the regulations, it shall be authorized by the county board,” Dennis continued. “The planning commission, after much discussion, determined that it did comply. The planning commission determined that with the conditions, it complies and shall be approved.”
The next step was then the public hearing. Dennis said he notified those living within three miles of the proposed operation of the hearing and there was notice published of the hearing in the newspaper.
A very supportive crowd attended the hearing in the commissioners’ meeting room, which included Chad and Misty Hirschfeld (property owners), neighbors of the Hirschfelds, fellow livestock producers, Jessica Kolterman from Lincoln Premium Poultry, Andy Scholting from Nutrient Advisors (working with Lincoln Premium Poultry) and Lisa Hurley from the York County Development Corporation.
No one spoke against the conditional permit or the chicken production operation in general.
Chad Hirschfeld said two families will be moving to the area to manage the chicken operations and his farming operation will utilize the nutrient value of the manure that will be generated there.
Scholting from Nutrient Advisors addressed the county board members, saying that the only residents within the odor footprint of the operation would be Hirschfelds themselves.
He said the site had been extensively examined by the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy, and no problems have been cited.
As far the nutrient benefit (for Hirschfelds’ farming operation), this is an excellent site, Scholting said, “with very little risk of contamination. From the siting standpoint, it is excellent.”
He said after the operation begins, his organization will take samples for nitrates and phosphorous and “this litter application will allow them to reduce commercial expenditures.”
Kolterman told the commissioners that since she began working with Lincoln Premium Poultry, “Lisa Hurley (with YCDC) and a certain state senator (her father, District 24 State Senator Mark Kolterman) have been nagging me to get some barns established in York County.”
She explained that the processing facility is in Fremont, as is the feed distribution facility, for the company.
“A lot of people have asked about the company’s policy. We require permits from the Department of Environment and Energy (DEE) by our growers, they have to take good care of the birds, they have to protect them from disease, we use the odor footprint tool . . .” and they work with numerous agencies (both state and local). “We do a thorough look at every single site. We have a respectful relationship with our partners and we are excited to working with the Hirschfeld family.”
“Obviously, I support this project,” said Hurley. “This is a great project for the county. I’m thrilled we have the Hirschfeld family to partner with them and go forward on this site.”
Hurley read a long list of economically-related positive statistics regarding this facility, as it will use a large amount of corn and soybean meal: 300,000 bushels of corn per week; 3,000 tons of soybean meal a week. While it was recognized the feed products used by the operation will come from the Lincoln Premium Poultry feed distribution center in Fremont, it will use Nebraska commodities.
Hurley also noted the economic impact of two families moving into the York County community. The operation will provide 15 direct and indirect jobs, she said, plus $1.2 million in direct/indirect labor income.
And the operation will generate $360,000 direct/indirect local property and sales tax revenue annually.
Plus, the manure value to the Hirschfelds (for their farming operation), Hurley said, would be about $120,000 a year.
Hearing no more comments, the commissioners closed the public hearing.
Zoning administrator Dennis said he wanted to express how appreciative the county should be of the work and seriousness of the planning commission. “This is a volunteer position and they spend a lot of time on an application like this. I want you to acknowledge their work.”
The commissioners said they were very appreciative of the hours spent by the planning commission going over this application.
“If you approve, I will issue the permit,” Dennis said to the commissioners. “As the county’s comprehensive plan says, we can’t get more land in the county to farm, as it is all being farmed. So putting these facilities in available and appropriate places is a way to grow the county’s agricultural opportunities. And this is a Livestock Friendly County, a designation for which we worked hard.”
“I’m very much in favor of this project, we need to support our producers when we can,” said Commissioner Randy Obermier. “It’s a great project.”
“I want to congratulate the Hirschfeld family for pursuing this,” said Commissioner Bill Bamesberger. “This is a fantastic project and I want to thank Benjamin (Dennis) and the planning commission for their work. We became a Livestock Friendly County a few years ago for this purpose. I think this is fantastic.”
There were questions about whether the primary route – the roads – taken to the operation will be of adequate condition to withstand the usage. Dennis said the route, for feed coming in and eventually chickens going out, will be Highway 81 to Benedict, then the county’s blacktop five miles to the west and then ¾ of a mile north on a county gravel road.
“The road will get wear and tear from the trucks, the road will need upgrades,” said York County Highway Superintendent Harvey Keim.
Kolterman said there would be a considerable amount of truck traffic associated with the operation.
Dennis said the planning commission didn’t recommend a provision requiring the producers to help pay for road maintenance (which could have been a possibility) because ag and livestock producers all over the county use heavy machinery on county roads.
“We need to be proactive with the roads, we need to get rock on it prior to the operation starting,” said Obermier. “I’m more concerned about the asphalt road, but being proactive on the gravel end of it would be smart.”
The gravel road they were discussing is that of Road H.
“Farming has changed and the county needs to come up with that change,” said Commissioner Kurt Bulgrin.
He said he was very much in favor of the project and made the motion to pass the conditional use permit. Commissioners Paul Buller and Bamesberger simultaneously seconded the motion.
“Seeing we have a motion and two seconds, let’s take what will likely be a positive vote,” said Commissioner Chairman Jack Sikes.
All the commissioners voted in favor of the permit, which Dennis will now issue.