5:26 pm on 28 February 2018
More than 70 people turned out to a public meeting last night over plans to build New Zealand's biggest chicken farm, south of Dargaville.
File photo. Photo: RNZ/Carol Stiles
Tegel Foods is seeking resource consents to raise nine million chickens a year on land that's currently dairy farm at Arapohue.
And as word spreads about the plan for a mega chook farm, opposition is mounting.
Some residents have agreed to sell their land to Tegel, but the rest are preparing for battle.
Lasd night's meeting at Dargaville High School was the fourth this month in the normally placid rural community.
Karen Exley, from the hastily-formed Kaipara Community Group, said 99 percent of those who attended were opposed to the chicken farm.
"People come along to the meetings, thinking it might be good for the local economy," she said. "But once they find out what's involved they change their mind."
Tegel wants to build 32 poultry sheds on farmland 12 km south of Dargaville, near the Northern Wairoa River.
Each shed would be almost as long as a rugby field and 20 metres wide, and the farm would be stocked with 1.3 million chickens at a time.
Tegel plans to incinerate the waste, and make the farm self-sufficient in energy.
'Forty tonnes of chicken poo a day'
Faith McManus, who lives just over the river at Te Kopuru, said it would be an industrial blot on an outstanding landscape and the smell would be unbearable.
The Northtec art tutor is one of several artists who have moved to Te Kopuru recently.
"It's a beautiful rural landscape and there are going to be these giant sheds and inside there'll be 41,000 chooks in each shed," she said.
"Forty tonnes of chicken poo a day will be going up in the air, and there are two country schools on either side of that."
Tegel has consulted neighbours of the farm site affected by what's described as a 'smell map' and arranged to buy up several properties.
But others living nearby said they had not been consulted.
Karen Exley said she and her husband Peter Exley own farm land adjoining the Tegel boundary, and had never heard from the company.
"They've ticked the box for community consultation on the application to the councils, but in our eyes, they've just approached the six closest houses, made them offers and got them to sign confidentiality clauses and promise not to oppose the resource consents," she said.
There is also concern at the prospect of truck convoys on rural roads as 750,000 chickens a month are taken to slaughter in Auckland.
Rosie Donovan, who's lived in the area all her life, said she and her family will be leaving if the farm goes ahead.
"I wouldn't want to stay here. We have health issues with the children in my family, and we work really hard to have clean air and water and good food," she said.
"It's just completely against where I saw the Kaipara going, with our little boutiquey shops popping up and cottage industries."
Ms Donovan said although farming and kumara growing were large-scale activities in the area they did not affect the community in the way the Tegel chicken farm would.
Lyn Vincent whose family grow organic kumara and vegetables on 50 hectares not far from the site, said the chicken farm could put them out of business.
The Vincents had been organic growers for 25 years she said and employed 35 people, some seasonal but most for long periods during the years.
If the Tegel farm went ahead, they'd need three soil audits a year, instead of one, at $1000 a pop, Mrs Vincent said.
"The dust fallout would be what will upset our growing operation, if it leaves any residue of any sort," she said.
"They (the organic certifiers) have told us they will scrutinise our audits... if they find residue we lose our organic status and our jobs. That's what we do for a living."
Karen Exley said that would negate any benefits of the 30-odd new jobs the chicken farm would create.
Carol Donovan, anther local said to add to the risks, the Tegel site was on a flood plain.
And though it planned to build bunds to keep the water out, it would still need to drain rainfall off the land, into rivers that feed the Kaipara Harbour and its snapper nursery, she said.
Mrs Donovan said the location of the chicken farm, right beside State Highway 12 was also a bad look for Northland's Twin Coast tourist route.
"That's in the middle of Tegel's 'smell map'. So the tourists have to go through this horrible odour," she said.
The company has told the regional council it has spoken to iwi over its plans.
'Our marae will be out of action'
But the manager of the nearest marae said no one from Tegel had been to visit and the marae would become unuseable if the chicken farm went ahead.
Violet Chapman said there was no way Kapehu marae could function with 1.3 million chickens being raised next door.
Mrs Chapman said the marae was a busy one - the smell would be intolerable and so was the prospect of chicken sheds close to the urupa.
She said the risk of air and water pollution was also a worry.
"They want to put sheds on the side of the marae and out the back near the urupa," she said.
"That means our marae will be out of action. There will be nothing there for us, really - we won't be able to use it, with the noise and the dust and the smell. "
Mrs Chapman said Kapehu marae would be lodging strong objections to the resource consents.
Tegel Foods has been asked for comment regarding the level of local concerns but has not yet responded.
The Northland Regional Council has had 17 submissions so far on the Tegel application, 16 of them opposed.
Submissions close next Wednesday.