Archive for Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Northeast Kansas targeted for hog farm plant site

Seaboard Farms looks at placing huge operation across from St. Joseph, Mo.

August 16, 2000

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Seaboard Farms officials, who were considering St. Joseph, Mo., as the site of a new hog processing plant, now are taking a look across the state line.

Company officials stress no final decision has been made, but acknowledge Elwood, in Kansas' northeast tip, is in the running for the plant.

Corporate hog opponents say a plant there could have serious effects on communities within a 100-mile radius, including Jefferson and Leavenworth counties.

Cliff Smedley of Johnson City, a spokesman for Stewards of the Land, said the Seaboard plant in Guymon, Okla., has made its presence felt north into Kearny and Wichita counties of southwest Kansas.

Elwood, population 1,400, is in Doniphan County across the Missouri River from St. Joseph. Seaboard's executives hadn't considered the town until called by Elwood's economic development director.

Seaboard had first considered Great Bend for the site. Gary Reckrodt, marketing director for the Merriam-based company, said Seaboard CEO Rick Hoffman is still in contact with a number of Great Bend civic and business leaders.

Smedley said though Kansas law prohibits corporate hog farms, Seaboard managed to raise swine in Kansas counties far removed from its Guymon plant, creating concerns there about pollution and lowered property values.

"One of their former employees in Wichita County is a puppet, and he's putting 86,000 head of hogs in a facility there," Smedley said.

Seaboard contacted Elwood Mayor Jim Rader. The mayor and other city council members eventually flew to Guymon to visit Seaboard's only existing plant. The new plant will reportedly be similar in size and production to the Oklahoma plant.

Kansas University anthropology professor Don Stull has studied the meat-packing industry for more than a dozen years and has examined the impact of the Seaboard plant on Guymon.

"Even if there were enough people locally to staff that (Elwood) plant, there will be significant turnover, especially when the plant first opens. At the Seaboard plant in Guymon, when I was doing some work there, (the turnover) was nearly 100 percent," Stull said. "They will recruit ever farther afield. The workers are not going to be predominantly from the local area."

Stull said the hog farms that already dot northwest Missouri have raised controversy about seepage from hog ponds, odor and water quality.

"I regret to hear they are trying to move so close to the Missouri River," said environmental lawyer Bob Eye of Lawrence. "That's troubling."

Seaboard representatives and Guymon city officials visited Elwood last week at a town-hall meeting about the proposed plant.

Rader said he's skeptical about the plan, but gave Seaboard his attention. Reckrodt said a decision probably wouldn't be made for at least one or two months. But he said construction could begin within six months.

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