Anthony and Argen Lee are first Sanderson contract growers in ENC

November 15, 2010

David Anderson

Kinston Free Press

Staff Writer

Photo: Janet S. Carter/The Free Press 

From left, Tommy Robertson, breeder and hatchery manager for Sanderson Farms, and grower Anthony Lee talk about the temperature inside the chicken houses on Thursday.

Argen Lee, who as a child helped her grandparents raise chickens on their family farm, is now working with her husband to raise new generations of chickens and roosters on the same land her grandparents owned.

“I just enjoy watching them,” she said. “I enjoy it when they get older and you start hearing the roosters crow; it’s an all-around country experience.”

Argen and Anthony Lee live on a 150-acre farm off Moore Road in Jones County, just east of the Lenoir County line. The land was passed down to Argen’s parents, who farmed it, and then the Lees purchased it from them in the late 1990s.

Their main product has been Angus beef cattle, but since April, those cows have had company in the form of baby chickens provided by Sanderson Farms.

“They had cows and they sold eggs,” Lee said of her grandparents. “And that’s basically what we’ve done with it; we put up chicken houses and we have cows.”

They were the first North Carolina growers Sanderson entered into a contract with early this year.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” said Anthony Lee, who grew up near Trenton and also comes from a farming family. “I’ve liked working with Sanderson; everybody at Sanderson I’ve dealt with has been fantastic.”

The Laurel, Miss.-based poultry company is investing $121 million in a Lenoir County processing plant, feed mill and hatchery and hiring up to 1,600 people for those operations. Sanderson also will contract with 84 local growers in a six-county area to provide the birds; about 75 growers have signed on so far, including the Lees.

“Any type of activity where they are keeping it local is going to boost the economy, boost agriculture in this area, which is great,” said Margaret Bell, livestock agent for the Cooperative Extension in Jones and Craven counties.

Anthony said he and his wife put up four chicken houses on 40 acres of their land – one house every 10 acres.

They are raising pullets who will serve as breeder chickens. The birds are one day old when they come to the farm, and the Lees keep them for 22 weeks. At that time, they are mature enough to go to local breeder farms.

There, the chickens and roosters mate, and the chickens then lay eggs that are trucked to Sanderson’s hatchery on Smithfield Way, just off Hill Farm Road.

The chicks that hatch there will be taken to broiler farms, and they will be the chickens that are taken to the processing plant and eventually end up on supermarket shelves.

Pullet growers such as the Lees receive their birds and feed from Sanderson suppliers – growers are responsible for providing the land, houses and cover utility costs.

“I had to put the buildings up, and I had to pay the light bill and the gas bill to heat it,” Anthony Lee said.

The first batch of chicks, known as biddies, came April 6, and the second on Oct. 6. Lee said he heats the houses with propane gas for the first four weeks, depending on the weather.

Argen Lee said the chicken manure will be used as fertilizer for the farm’s cow pastures.

“We’re going to put it over our pastures, so we won’t have to buy fertilizer, that’s a plus for us,” she said.

Disposal of chicken waste is often a major issue in communities that have poultry farms, especially the impact waste runoff has on local waterways.

Lee said local farmers often use chicken waste as fertilizer, and she and her husband had to develop a nutrient management plan, and meet with officials from the N.C. Division of Water Quality and the Natural Resources Conservation Service, part of the USDA.

“We had to follow all the rules and regulations, just like any hog farmer or anybody else,” she said.

Overall the Lees said chicken houses have been a good investment, and many of their friends are doing it.

“We’re very pleased with them, so when we had people come ask us questions we recommended Sanderson; it’s a good investment,” she said.

David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or danderson@freedomenc.com.

BREAKOUT BOX 1:

Sanderson Farms incentives from city and county:

Hatchery:

$760,000 combined grant over 10 years for $13 million investment, 115 jobs

Feed Mill:

$1.14 million grant over 10 years for $21.8 million investment, 45 jobs

Processing plant:

$5 million grant over 10 years for $86.6 million investment, 1,490 jobs

$4.2 million natural gas line extension, $2.5 million covered by state grants, at least $300,000 from Piedmont Natural Gas, remainder would be covered by taxpayers unless more grants are found

Fixed water rate through 2018

BREAKOUT BOX 2:

Sanderson is expected to use thousands of gallons of city water and sewer per day:

Feed mill and hatchery:

Each projected to use 25,000 to 30,000 gallons of water and sewer per day

Charged standard monthly inside industrial rate of $8.46 base charge plus $3.20 per 1,000 gallons

Processing plant:

Projected to use 1.5 million gallons per day

Qualifies for large inside industrial rate of $7.05 base charge, $1.50 per 1,000 gallons

Progress Energy is electric supplier

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