THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 3, 2015
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., talks to Austin Stanton, left, and his brother, Dustin, Tuesday at the Stantons’ egg farm between Centralia and Sturgeon. The farm is the country’s largest free-range egg operation. McCaskill is on a tour of Missouri farms and ranches to hear about producers’ needs and views of federal regulations.
By RUDI KELLER
Bureaucrats have a problem with the flies at the Stanton Brothers Eggs farm between Centralia and Sturgeon in northern Boone County, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill learned Tuesday morning.
It isn’t that there are too many flies, Dustin Stanton said. The problem is that inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture have trouble counting them. Inside a barn, paper that is marked when flies alight is used to obtain the counts. Outside, the papers are much less reliable.
Inspectors told the Stantons to build barns for the 12,000 chickens allowed to roam at the nation’s largest independent free-range egg farm.
The other option the inspectors suggested was to cut back on production so they have fewer than 3,000 chickens and don’t trigger the regulation.
The Stantons have about 20,000 chickens total, producing 500 dozen eggs per day. They have a climate-controlled barn for about 8,000 chickens in addition to the birds allowed to forage outside.
“They specifically said in all our meetings that they don’t want chickens outside,” Stanton said.
The rule makes no sense to anyone who understands chickens, McCaskill, D-Mo., said, noting that chickens eat flies and other bugs. She promised to ask Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to visit the farm to learn about barriers faced by the young entrepreneurs.
“What they are trying to do is force independents like you into the same rules as the big guys,” McCaskill said. “They want to put a barrier between small and medium producers, and the rules gang up on you so you can’t do it.”
McCaskill is on the second day of a tour of farms and farm support businesses across the state. She said she wants to highlight innovative producers and the obstacles to success created by government rules and the concentration of production in corporate hands. Large producers want complex, expensive regulations, she said.
“If you see how the food industry has come together, what really has happened is the great big operators really try to snuff out anybody ever getting above small,” McCaskill said.
Dustin Stanton, 22, and his brother Austin Stanton, 19, began with six hens purchased by their father when Dustin was in the first grade. He’s now a University of Missouri graduate, and Austin is a freshman. They sell eggs at the Columbia Farmer’s Market and to supermarkets in the region.
McCaskill began the day by making an omelet with Stanton eggs and learned about the regulation problems over breakfast. She was joined by her staff and all three Boone County commissioners, who also learned how to prepare an omelet.
Not every egg producer can move to a free-range system, Dustin Stanton said, or the price of eggs would double or triple. But the big producers have become so dominant that it has upset the market for supplies and equipment, he said.
A southeast Missouri equipment dealer who once did business with the Stantons turned them away because they are not under contract to a major corporation, Dustin Stanton said.
Now they make their purchases from a Canadian company.
“We literally had to go to Minneapolis to place our order,” he said.
The refusal to sell because the Stantons lacked the proper corporate relationship is a possible violation of anti-trust laws, McCaskill said.
“The notion that an independent farmer in the United States cannot buy equipment here is offensive to me,” she said.
Posted in Politics on Tuesday, September 1, 2015 2:00 pm.