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Tahlequah, OK 74464-1949
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[Archived] Poultry Farm Soil Tests Look For More Than Just Phosphorus

| Environment | January 04, 2014

Poultry Farm Soil Tests Look For More Than Just Phosphorus 

Oklahoma Officials Sign Agreement To Examine Soil On Up To 15 Different Farms In The Illinois River Watershed.."NW Arkansas Morning News" 
Poultry Farm Soil Tests Look For More Than Just Phosphorus
Oklahoma Officials Sign Agreement To Examine Soil On Up To 15 Different Farms In The Illinois River Watershed
By John L. Moore
The NW Arkansas Morning News


Farmers and their representatives call plans for extensive soil testing at farms along the Illinois River a witch hunt meant to provide ammunition for a lawsuit against poultry companies.

Fifteen farms were selected as candidates for extra testing based on a cooperative agreement between Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and Oklahoma Secretary of Agriculture Terry Peach.

Edmondson filed suit against eight poultry companies, including the world's largest poultry company, Tyson Foods Inc. of Springdale, and six subsidiaries of those companies in June for allegedly polluting the Illinois River with runoff from fields treated with poultry litter. The suit asks for unspecified monetary damages to repair the Illinois River and Lake Tenkiller.

The soil tests are to be conducted soon and include tests for arsenic, copper, zinc, several different bacteria as well as estrogen related hormones, according to information provided by Jack Carson, a spokesman with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture.

Farmers on these sites already test their soil for phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium as part of a nutrient management plan controlled by the state's Registered Poultry Feeding Operations Act.

There is every indication these farms have followed the act and are in compliance with state law, said Marla Peek, director of regulatory affairs with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau.

"It's way above and beyond what state law requires. I don't know if this is legal, but I can tell you it smacks of abuse of power," Peek said.

"We believe it's legal and the attorney general (Edmondson) agreed with us," Carson said. 

Carson said the tests are to ensure farmers aren't applying more poultry litter than what is shown in the current soil testing program.

"We feel we're looking after the poultry growers' best interest by having scientific data to rely on. We also believe their samples will show the poultry litter on these farms is being applied in a proper manner," Carson said.

Michael Graves, an attorney for the farmers and Poultry Partners Inc., a group of growers, said he doesn't believe farmers have to allow state inspectors or private contractors on the site to do the tests.

Graves said the farmers hope there is no legal action, but if warrants are obtained to do the testing, the situation may end up in court.

"This is a property rights issue, not a soil testing issue," said Bev Saunders who has a farm with her husband.

Saunders said she and her husband have welcomed soil testing on their farm for nutrients, and regularly send their soil samples in to test the levels of phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen in the soil.

Excessive nutrients in stream, rivers and reservoirs can lead to rampant algae growth. The algae blooms can result in taste and odor problems as well as fish kills in lakes in extreme cases.

Area farmers have maintained the lawsuit was filed against the poultry companies purely for a big settlement check and not to protect the environment.

"The lawsuit and all the negotiations for the last three years, all the talks are about protecting Oklahoma's natural resources, specifically our water. There is a very good reason behind all the efforts that have gone into it," said Charlie Price, a spokesman for Edmondson's office.

Poultry companies have agreed to a number of steps to reduce the impact of land-applied poultry litter on streams, but have resisted Edmondson's calls to pay monetary damages.

"This becomes more than just soil testing. It's a property rights issue directly involving farmers and their land," said Janet Wilkerson, a spokesperson for the poultry companies and employee of Peterson Farms Inc. of Decatur, one of the companies named in the suit.

Wilkerson said the issue did not directly involve the poultry companies and she couldn't comment further on the issue.

Wilkerson said negotiations between Edmondson and the poultry companies are scheduled again on July 19 and 20 in Tulsa, Okla.