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Forsman Farms assures Renville of its commitment to be trouble-free neighbor

Forsman Farms is planning to develop a large-scale egg laying operation on the former Rembrandt Food site in the city of Renville's industrial park. Renville City Council members and residents made it clear that past problems on the site remain at the top of their minds.

Renville City Council member Adam Zaske speaks Jan. 24, 2022, during a permit hearing. He is flanked by council members Alma Gasca and David Van Hove Jr.
Renville City Council member Adam Zaske, center, speaks Monday during a permit hearing for an egg-laying operation, urging that Forsman Farms keep communication open with the city and its residents, and work to resolve any problems should they develop. Council members Alma Gasca and David Van Hove Jr. are to Zaske's right and left. The city held a conditional use permit hearing Jan. 24, 2022, on plans by the company to develop a large-scale egg-laying operation on the former Rembrandt Foods site in Renville's industrial park.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
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RENVILLE — Just 14 minutes into a public hearing on a proposed large-scale egg laying facility in the community of Renville, and the question on everyone’s mind was raised.

“So how do you control the flies?” asked Judy Morris.

The Renville City Council held a hearing Monday evening on a request by Forsman Farms of Howard Lake to re-permit the former Rembrandt Foods site located in the city’s industrial park for a new egg laying operation.

Forsman Farms is proposing to develop a cage-free farm with 1.3 million egg layers at the site, along with up to 340,000 pullets. The multimillion-dollar project calls for removing all of the existing barns, which once held 2 million egg-layers, as well as the egg-processing and wastewater treatment facilities on the site.

In their place, the company plans to build four new layer barns, a pullet barn, farm packing building and other support buildings. Eggs will be transported to Howard Lake for processing.

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Morris and her family once lived on a dairy farm directly north of the former Rembrandt Foods site, which was originally owned by a cooperative known as Golden Oval. She described the problem with large numbers of flies as being so bad, “we couldn’t hardly live.”

City Council member Adam Zaske, and some of the eight community members attending the hearing, made it clear that the problems of those previous years remain top of mind.  

“As you can tell, we’ve had some struggles in the past,” Zaske said. “The fact is, it affected every resident in Renville. At times, (it was) so unbearable (you) couldn't even go outside and eat.”

Sagar Sunkavalli, environmental director for the neighboring Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, also expressed the company’s concerns that Forsman Farms does not repeat the problems previously experienced there. Sunkavalli said the cooperative was put in a position of having to prove it was not responsible for the flies that plagued the community for a number of years.

Along with the flies, community members said the town’s reputation was also hurt by the odors from the operation.

“We get it,” Colin McGraw, director of operations for Forsman Farms, told the council members and residents as he explained the company’s plans for the site.

“There will be flies,” he said in response to a point by Morris that it is impossible not to have flies when there are animals. “We strive for zero. There will be some. You will be pleasantly surprised.”

McGraw said the Forsman Farms operation will be significantly different from what was formerly on the site. There will be no waste pits under the barns. The litter produced by the birds will be continuously moved by conveyor belts and scrapers in the barns to a dryer. It will use heated air from the barns to dry the manure to a 12% moisture level. The litter will be pelletized for sale, mostly to large commercial users.

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Wet manure, he explained, is the food source for the flies.

There will be no wastewater treatment at the site for chicken manure as was formerly done. Some of those attending the hearing said they felt the former Rembrandt waste treatment system was a significant contributor to odor issues.

Colin McGraw, director of operations for Forsman Farms, of Howard Lake, at a Renville City Council public hearing on Jan. 24, 2022.
Colin McGraw, director of operations for Forsman Farms, of Howard Lake, describes the company's plans for an egg-laying operation in Renville while also hearing the concerns of residents and City Council members to avoid the problems with flies and odors experienced at the site in the past. McGraw spoke to council members at a hearing on a conditional use permit for the site on Jan. 24, 2022.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Forsman Farms will use a chimney air ventilation system in the barns. There will be no horizontal fans exhausting odors, according to McGraw. Air from the barns will be vented upward, where it will disperse more quickly, he explained.

McGraw said the company has a “zero tolerance” approach to both flies and rodents. Keeping the barns clean and free of unwanted pests to create a desirable environment for both employees and birds is a priority. “We pride ourselves on that,” he said. He pointed to the company’s operations in Cokato, where he said in warm weather, employees routinely leave the windows on their vehicles down.

City Council members toured the Forsman Farms barns, and gave them good marks. Council members David Van Hove Jr. and Pete Peterson were among those who described the barns as virtually odor free. “Very impressed with your buildings and everything inside,” said Peterson.

Council members said they want to be assured that Forsman Farms will quickly resolve any problems if they develop. They emphasized that they want the company to work with the city and Renville County Public Health if issues arise.

Zaske said the city didn’t feel it had a partner it could work with in the past. “I do not want to be where we couldn’t even grill outside. Had flies everywhere,” he said.

David Distad, environmental health specialist for Renville County Public Health, dealt with the fly problems experienced by the site’s former owners. He also urged McGraw to keep communication open with the city and residents and to be “up front.”

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“Instead of taking a reactive approach, be proactive,” said Distad. Pointing to the past experiences, he told McGraw: “As it escalated, things were not done as a preventative, but only as a reactive.”

During his presentation, McGraw said the company is hoping to begin removing all of the barns, concrete floors and wastewater treatment facility in the upcoming construction season. The company does not have a timetable for when the new buildings will be completed and populated.

City Council members have 60 days to decide on a conditional use permit for the project. They are expected to act on it during their regular meeting in March.

Colin McGraw, director of operations for Forsman Farms, speaks Jan. 24, 2022, to the Renville City Council and community members during a permit hearing.
Colin McGraw, standing at left, director of operations for Forsman Farms, addresses members of the Renville City Council, to his left, as well as residents of the community at a hearing Jan. 24, 2022, on a request for a conditional use permit by the company for an egg-laying operation.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
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