Do an expanded feedlot and tons of manure belong near Powell Gardens?

Powell Gardens has earned its reputation as a well-run, beautiful destination for Kansas City and the region.
Powell Gardens has earned its reputation as a well-run, beautiful destination for Kansas City and the region. File photo

The serene acreage of Powell Gardens is designed to promote an appreciation for plants and to cultivate a respect for farm to table.

But a proposal for a nearby Angus beef feedlot in Lone Jack to expand to nearly 7,000 cattle, has caught the botanical garden southeast of Kansas City off guard.

By the time Powell Gardens learned that Valley Oaks Steak Co. and the affiliated Valley Oaks Angus were planning to expand, the public comments portion of the permitting process was already nearing completion. Thankfully, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources has listened to growing concerns and scheduled a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Warrensburg Community Center.

Valley Oaks Angus must answer the many legitimate questions about the impact its expansion would have on Powell Gardens before the state makes a decision on granting the permit requested.

Simply put, those living and working near the proposed feedlot and rendering site are rightly concerned about the amount of manure and urine the cattle will produce. The site is about 400 acres, a relatively small space for a concentrated animal feeding operation of that size. If not properly handled, the animal waste could contaminate local water wells, negatively affect air quality — not to mention just plain stink.

According to the feedlot’s application, expanding from fewer than 900 head of cattle to 6,999 would produce an estimated 13,900 tons of manure a year. By choosing to stay right under 7,000 head of cattle, Valley Oaks will not trigger the stricter environmental standards for odor that are imposed on larger feedlots.

Even the insects drawn to the waste could be a problem for Powell, which is three miles east of the feedlot. Powell Gardens is home to the 12-acre Heartland Harvest Garden, which sells its produce through a community-supported agriculture program, in addition to the floral displays and other landscaping that are maintained nearly year-round.

State officials will need to answer questions about how operations such as Valley Oaks are monitored for health and environmental standards. Sites where cattle are raised and slaughtered on the same premises are often run as no-discharge systems, meaning the manure will be stored and then either bagged into fertilizer or put on nearby fields. And at a time when some politicians are pushing for relaxing environmental regulations, larger feedlots are a growing concern for many communities.

Valley Oaks is owned by the Ward family, who have bred Angus cattle for 25 years. Through Valley Oaks Steak Co., the Ward family supplies beef to several area SunFresh grocery stores, in addition to smaller butcher shops and direct sales to the public.

Like Powell Gardens, many who are questioning the expansion are not antagonistic to farming. In fact, some members of the opposing Lone Jack Neighbors for Responsible Farming are farmers themselves. Their concerns about their own property values, the health of their families and the environment are valid.

They deserve detailed answers from Valley Oaks.

Powell Gardens has earned its reputation as a well-run, beautiful destination for Kansas City and the region. State officials must make protecting this resource a priority as they consider whether to allow a major feedlot expansion.