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TOPEKA, KS - A Kansas bill receiving widespread support would allow the expansion of confined chicken growing operations within proximity to residential areas.

The Senate bill was endorsed Monday by two of the state's largest agriculture industry organizations, Kansas State University faculty and county development groups, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.

The proposed legislation would set boundaries on concentration of chicken houses and the number of birds at each site in order to improve recruitment of companies interested in making investments in new production facilities.

"If we're going to grow the economy, we have to grow agriculture," said Jackie McClaskey, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture. "This bill is not designed to do anything to weaken our environmental standards. It is not designed to change the role of the state or locals in deciding what kind of business they want to recruit to their community."

Kansas has a modest poultry footprint while surrounding states have embraced poultry farming, according to agriculture leaders.

"Out of all animal production, it is the one industry that is expanding and will probably continue to expand," said Scott Beyer, associate professor of animal science at Kansas State University.

The bill follows last year's community backlash after Tyson Foods' proposal to build a $320 million poultry production and processing complex near Tonganoxie. Tyson wanted to open a chicken hatchery and feed mill to serve up to 400 chicken-raising houses on farms and ranches within a 50-mile radius. The company pulled out of its incentive-laden deal after public outcry.

Under the proposed legislation, poultry barns in Kansas can't be closer than a quarter-mile from an occupied home.

Chicken is expected to become the most widely consumed protein by 2020, said Ashley Hutchinson, executive director of Cloud County Economic Development.

"The minute this becomes statute, you will be putting an open sign at our borders," she said. "Give us the tools we need to bring in agriculture economic development in rural America."
 

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