Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts speaks June 19 during a groundbreaking for the Costco chicken processing plant in Fremont.

Courtesy photo

COLUMBUS — Tim Mueller is taking a big leap of faith.

The corn and soybean farmer is branching out into livestock, specifically chickens.

It's a big investment for the Columbus man, who is taking out a $2 million loan to build chicken barns on his land to supply birds to Costco.

About 120 farmers are being recruited to raise the approximately 2 million chickens per week that will be processed at a new plant in Fremont and sold in Costco stores.

Mueller has yet to sign a 15-year contract with the company, but makes it sound like converting a portion of his more than 500-acre farm into chicken barns for Costco is a done deal.

He said he always wanted to get into animal agriculture and views this as an opportunity to make that happen. Other area farmers are considering the same move.

There are more than enough farmers within a 60-mile radius of Fremont who have expressed interest in contracting with the company to meet the recruitment number, according to Jessica Kolterman.

She's in external affairs with Lincoln Premium Poultry, the company that will run the processing plant, and spoke about the project during Tuesday's Platte County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Kolterman was joined by Walt Shafer, project manager, who said the project will include a processing plant, feed mill and hatchery that will provide the feed and chicks to farmers.

The growers, like Mueller, who also attended the meeting, must build and maintain the barns and raise the birds to a desired weight.

Mueller said adding 12 chicken barns to his small operation is a huge risk, but one he's willing to take.

“It’s extra income and diversification,” he said.

It's also an opportunity to bring his children back into the fold. Mueller, 56, is a fifth-generation farmer and said his two sons will also be part of the business of raising chickens.

“Someone is going to have to take over (the farm). The long-range plan was to farm until I was able to retire and then one of the boys would come back. Now they can come back,” he said.

Another benefit is the nutrients produced from the chicken manure. The chicken barns will have bedding made of cottonwood shavings that come from Nebraska. The shavings break down the waste into a dry litter that can be used on crops instead of chemical fertilizer.

All of the farmers are required to have nutrient management plans.

Kolterman and Shafer have been visiting with area county boards to field questions about the project that is expected to employ about 1,000 workers.

Although Platte County does not have zoning, Shafer said growers have to meet setback requirements that are in place.

He also said the impact of the project will go beyond farmers raising chickens. It will extend to other producers, too, because the plant will use about 350,000 bushels of corn and about 3,000 tons of soybean meal per week that will be sourced locally.

In other business, the board approved:

• setting public hearings for ordinances regarding sale solicitations and engine braking for 9:30 and 9:45 a.m. Nov. 14, respectively.

• allowing the building and grounds committee to get bids for carpet and wall construction for the new Extension office building. The cost is not expected to exceed $20,000.

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