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Butler County chicken farm

Under a new law, the two-year window for neighbors to sue the owners of a chicken or hog farm begins once conditions at that farm become bad enough to merit a lawsuit.

DAVID CITY -- When John Kobza learned more than four years ago about an opportunity for his family to diversify its income stream, the Butler County man didn’t hesitate to invest in what would ultimately become a portion of the growing operation for the Costco/Lincoln Premium Poultry Chicken Processing Facility being built in south Fremont.

“We were signed up before we even knew that Costco was the company,” said Kobza, whose family owns and operates Kobza Auctions & Realty. “One of the things that caught our eye right away was that it was a very good cash flow, there was good money to be made and we could do it as a family. It was a chance for James to come back to the farm and that was something that he wanted to do.”

His son, James, graduated from Northeast Community College in Norfolk with a degree in diversified agriculture and will operate four of the eight, 62-by-600-foot barns erected on the Kobza family’s land positioned about 4-miles east of Bellwood.

John Kobza’s wife, Kim; and daughter, Jenna, will also help with portions of the day-to-day operation. Jenna is in the process of finishing up with college and Kim retired this spring after 34 years spent in the Schuyler Community Schools district to aid her husband with the new venture.

“Family means everything,” said John, who has also been a lifelong corn, bean, hog and cattle producer. “And the fact that my wife and I will be able to work alongside and work with James is just great.”

The Kobzas are one of about a dozen families encompassing Butler County that are raising birds for Lincoln Premium Poultry, the company behind the growing operation for the Costco/Lincoln Premium Poultry Chicken Processing Plant.

Jessica Kolterman, Lincoln Premium Poultry external affairs spokeswoman, said the facility will employ about 1,000 people and is expected to have a $1.2 billion economic impact annually in Nebraska.

Chicken barns providing birds to the facility cover about 20 Nebraska counties and four to five counties in Iowa, Kolterman said, adding that the typical four-barn setup costs between $2 million and $2.5 million with a rate of return on the investment being about 15 years.

The Fremont facility, the first of its kind, will kick out about 40 percent of Costco Wholesale’s chicken products in North America. This includes its standard rotisserie chicken along with breasts, thighs and other chicken goods.

Kolterman said that the investment made by Butler County farming families has enabled them to diversify their operation and provide an alternative stream of revenue for their families.

“I just think that it has been received positively in the way it gives them (producers) the opportunity to add to their farm in a variety of ways,” Kolterman said. “First you are diversifying, and secondly with this project in the region, we are bringing a bigger demand for soybeans and corn, which should create a more competitive marketplace.”

The bird operation for the chicken processing facility consists of 432 broiler barns, 24 pullet barns and 64 breeder barns, for a grand total of 520 barns being erected throughout the region.

Kobza said that Lincoln Premium Poultry will provide six flocks annually for his barns that will produce a little more than 2 million chickens. Each barn, he said, holds about 42,000 birds.

On Aug. 1, the Kobzas had about 300 people tour their new operation and view the state-of-the-art barns that won’t be accessible to people on the outside once birds start being delivered in early September.

“We just had a lot of family, friends, acquaintances, neighbors,” Kobza said of the open house. “You want to stay on good terms with everybody and we wanted to show them that this is a class operation. We talked all about how the manure would be managed, the smell -- if any -- will be managed and that the birds will be managed properly, and also just showed them what our daily duties will be … “So many people were just saying how impressed they were by the construction of the buildings, the equipment and the organization of the project … A computer oversees a lot of things in the barn like humidity, heat, ammonia levels and lighting.”

Unlike the majority of counties in the state, Butler County residents erecting structures on their properties were in a unique position of not having to go before the county’s governing body to ask permission.

Rural Butler County, Kolterman said, doesn’t have set zoning parameters, however, strict measures were still required by the state and Lincoln Premium Poultry.

“We require a quarter-mile setback from residences and other major public buildings, and a requirement that the grower has the operation 400 feet off of the road,” Kolterman said. “And then finally, all the families are required to get state operating permits through the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality.”

Kobza said that while he’s aware of neighbors in surrounding counties verbalizing concerns about chicken barns being erected, he has had no issues with anybody in his neck of the woods. His two closest neighbors, he said, run hog and livestock operations.

The producer’s barns have been intact since December 2018 and are in the final stages of having technology and other amenities installed. Birds will arrive on Sept. 2, 3, 4 and 7.

“It will be pretty busy, Kobza said, with a laugh.

Kobza said that the new undertaking is particularly exciting because it’s so straightforward.

“I’ve been a lifelong farmer … and I just love to see things grow,” he said. “And the one big thing that caught my eye was that (with this) you are growing for a specific purpose.

I will be able to walk into the store and see my own finished product.”

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