Tyson Foods plans to build a 300-acre, $320 million poultry hatchery, feed mill and processing plant near Tonganoxie, Kan., but the announcement Tuesday drew mixed reviews from county residents.
Despite the economic potential, some Tonganoxie residents want Tyson to stay out of their community, with many upset that plans for the project were kept secret among state, county and city officials until Tuesday’s announcement. City and county leaders signed a non-disclosure form, and the plan even had a code name: “Project Sunset.”
“We felt blindsided,” Travis McGraw, a local third generation farmer told KSHB news. “I don't think any elected official should sign a nondisclosure form. They aren't going to be living by the plant. They aren't going to be smelling it every day. Not to mention the sewage concerns from the plant."
Listen to Greg Henderson's report on the new plant duirng AgriTalk:
The proposed facility would be up and running by mid-2019 and employ 1,600 people, which dignitaries such as Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Jackie McClaskey say would provide an economic boom to Tonganoxie (pop. 5,000).
Tyson Foods “investment in our state is an indicator of the support and enthusiasm shown by local leaders who saw this opportunity for economic growth in their community,” said McClaskey.
In a statement, Tyson president and CEO Tom Hayes said, “We believe this new operation, which will incorporate the latest production technology, will enable us to meet the sustained growth in consumer demand for fresh chicken.”
Doug Ramsey, Tyson’s group president for poultry operations, said the new plant would process 1.25 million birds a week, and the company intends to contract with local farmers to raise those chickens in 300 to 400 poultry houses.
“We believe eastern Kansas is the right location because of the availability of grain and labor, as well as access to our nationwide customer base that is accessible through the state’s top-notch transportation network,” Ramsey said.
Tonganoxie Mayor Jason Ward says the Tyson facility is a big opportunity for Leavenworth County and his city, one that many communities might envy. That’s because the plant is expected to generate a direct annual economic benefit to the state of Kansas of $150 million, according to Tyson, an estimate that includes payroll and payments to farmers to raise chickens, and the purchase of grains and utilities.
Additionally, McCloskey believes Kansas agriculture will see other growth areas. The grower network, for instance, will provide opportunities for family farms to diversify and add a new revenue source from managing poultry houses, and Kansas grain farmers will have a new marketing outlet in the form of direct grain contracts with Tyson Foods.
The economic boost, however, means little to those opposed to the new Tyson plant. They see their quality of life changing and reasons given for opposing the plant include the potential smell of the processing facility, while low-paying processing jobs are likely to draw immigrant labor to the area. An influx of 1,600 workers could strain the Tonganoxie school district.
Bryan Kemp, Tonganoxie school board president, told the Kansas City Star, “They say this could double the size of the school district and they want to be operational in two years? We can’t build anything in two years. Not with what we have. The city has to consider the district. Tyson has to consider the district. I even told Governor Brownback we’ve got to have help figuring out what to do.”
A handful of protesters at the announcement also held signs with messages such as “Family Farms, not Factory Farms;” “We need good jobs, not slave wages;” and, “Tyson Tortures Chickens.”