Egg farm expansion first under review by new state law

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(Host) A Quebec company wants to expand a large-scale Franklin County egg farm that in the past has drawn complaints from neighbors.

The state denied a similar expansion plan six years ago.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The company is called Vermont Egg Farms, and it houses about 101,000 birds in the Franklin County town of Highgate.

The operation has been controversial in the past. In the late 1990s, neighbors- including local dairy farmers – complained about a massive fly infestation caused by the egg farm. The flies bred in the chicken manure, and millions of the pests invaded nearby farms.

During that time, Fran Bessette and her husband operated a dairy farm nearby. She’s worried about the egg farm’s plan to build a new barn, and more than double the number of hens.

(Bessette) "It’s unbelievable what we went through in our house, in our barn, and what the animals through. My sons called when they found about it, they said: ‘Ma, what are we going to do? Do we have to relive this again?’ It took me three or four days to digest it, and I’m still sick over it, because I have no idea what the outcome is going to be."

(Dillon) Serge Poulin is the company’s manager. He filed the application with the state to add 161,000 more hens. Poulin says the fly problem was addressed 10 years ago.

(Poulin) "We never got any issue with the fly anymore. .. We prove to the Vermont Department of Agriculture that we were able to take care of the flies there, and fly issue is not an issue anymore."

(Dillon) Poulin says the company installed large fans that solved the problem.

(Poulin) "It will dry the manure faster which will not be suitable habitat for fly reproduction."

(Dillon) Fran Bessette says the fly problem was reduced after the egg farm made modifications. But she’s still concerned about the expansion.

(Bessette) "And I’m not against farmers. We have a mid-sized farm, my children run it now. And believe me, I’m a farm girl. But we’ve never been so disgusted with this in all our life."

(Dillon) The state legislature wrote the first law to regulate large farm operations after the egg farm was built.

The law was amended in 2007. The changes call for a committee to review expansion plans at large farms. The egg farm expansion is the first to be covered by the new provisions.

Kelly Loftus of the Vermont Agency of the Agriculture says the committee includes a representative from the town selectboard, an official from the Natural Resources Agency, someone from the ag agency, and a farmer selected by the governor.

(Loftus) "Anyone interested in this new construction would have an opportunity to come and get more information, voice concerns or become more aware of what the application involves."

(Dillon) The state has denied the egg farm’s expansion plans once before. The agency rejected a proposal to add 135,000 birds in 2002. It said the farm failed to come up with a manure management plan that would address potential fly problems.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

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