Representatives of Lincoln Premium Poultry presented information about the Costco/Lincoln Premium Poultry facility during the Nebraska Natural Resource Districts 2018 Legislative Conference Wednesday in Lincoln.
The representatives included project manager and chief operating officer Walt Shafer, and community relations director Jessica Kolterman, who spoke about practices being implemented across the project to protect environmental quality and promote environmental stewardship.
The presentation focused on steps the company is taking to reduce environmental impact at the processing plant, feed mill, and hatchery located just south of Fremont as well as in and around area barn sites at contract grower locations.
One specific technology that will be used at the processing plant is known as air chilling which, according to Shafer, reduces the chances of contamination and will save on water usage at the facility.
“This plant will have what we call air chill, it will be only one of a few plants in the U.S. that will be air chilling the poultry to bring body temperatures down after they are eviscerated,” he said. “It will have the largest air chill process in North America, if you go into Canada and Europe today that is all there is. In our industry here, it is water chilled and Costco thinks it’s going to be a better product for their members and incidentally it saves us several million gallons a week of water consumption that was originally predicted for this project.”
The USDA requires poultry be cooled to at least 40 degrees within four hours of slaughter to ensure food safety. The typical method of poultry facilities across the country is to immerse the poultry in vats of cold water. During the air chilling process, birds are passed through several chambers where cold, purified air is used to cool the meat.
Shafer added that no rendering will be done at the processing facility and that Costco/Lincoln Premium Poultry has contracted with Darling International Inc.
“Nothing will be cooked at the site, all of the byproducts at the plant will be taken to the Darling rendering facility and that would be the viscera package: blood, feathers, and things of that nature,” he said.
The presentation also covered potential issues and steps being taken towards to protect environmental safety at the approximately 450 chicken barns that will be built in surrounding counties on the land of contracted growers.
According to Shafer, Lincoln Premium Poultry is in the process of contracting between 110 and 125 growers and the average grower will have four barns on each site.
One ongoing concern among opponents of the project is the amount of chicken litter produced at each barn, and its possible effect on nitrogen levels in soil if it is not stored and managed properly.
Shafer addressed those concerns and spoke about the company’s plan to compost litter within broiler chicken barns.
“When we start these birds it is a compacted clay floor, we compact it, roll it until its hard as a brick, we then put in 3 to 4 inches of soft wood shaving bed. When those birds go out we don’t clean out, we compost it,” he said. “The neat part about here is when we get to a year that litter is going to be built up about 6 or 7 inches. When they get to the fall, the producer can go in and remove about 3 inches of that litter and he can take it direct to the field based on the nutrient management plan that he has already followed, based on soil testing, crop cover, and etcetera.”
Lincoln Premium Poultry also hired nutrient advisors to work with all of the contract growers to put the nutrient management plans into place, according to Shafer.
Shafer also added that Lincoln Premium Poultry has put certain requirements into contracts with growers to help ensure environmental safety including the nutrient management plans, soil testing, and litter management plans.
“When I came to Nebraska one of the first requirements I had was that we were going to adopt a lot of that on our own and we work with the NDEQ (Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality) to essentially require all of our growers to get a state operation permit,” he said. “They are not required to have that but I require them to have that as part of their contract. We want to lead the way, we want to be good stewards of the land, and we want to do the right thing.”