The number of poultry operators in northeast Oklahoma is dropping but the farms are raising more birds per facility, according to data from the state.
The Tulsa World requested 20 years of data on poultry operations from the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture Food and Forestry. The newspaper reported Wednesday that the number of chicken farms has dropped from an apparent high point in 2001 through 2004.
The chicken farms are primarily concentrated in eastern Oklahoma, in Delaware, Adair, LeFlore and McCurtain counties.
“The overall trend is clear and it’s a trend we’re seeing in all the agricultural industries looking at national statistics with the number of farming operations tending to go down while the size is increasing. That’s a trend that would also hold true for beef feed lots and swine operations,” said Agriculture Department Director of Environmental Management Services Jeremy Seiger.
There are 609 active registered operations in eastern Oklahoma with a capacity to grow 58.8 million birds, an average of about 96,500 birds per operation. That’s down from a peak in 2002 of 1,096 farms with a capacity of 75.7 million birds, or about 69,000 per farm.
Residents in the Illinois River watershed have complained for years of pollution from poultry waste in northeast Oklahoma. Late last year, Arkansas and Oklahoma signed a memorandum of understanding to study ways to improve water quality.
Pam Kingfisher of the citizens group Green Country Guardians said the trend of fewer, larger chicken farms isn’t surprising.
“We’ve always lived with this,” she said. “It’s when the houses got bigger and they started concentrating them all on top of us that people started to scream.”