A week and a half ago, Ukrainian buyer of Townsend announced that it was closing its two North Carolina processing plants. More than 150 North Carolina poultry farmers learned that their contracts will be terminated in 60 days.
For a contract poultry grower, that is devastating news. Farmers foot the bill for costly chicken houses and equipment. Cooperative Extension estimates that most of these growers still owe $300,000 – $500,000 on those houses.
That means that many of the cut-off growers could stand to lose their farms or their homes.
Right now, we are working with partners, NC State Cooperative Extension, other growers, and other partners to make sure that legal aid, financial services, mental health and emergency resources, and peer support are available for farmers who want them. The stress of a lost contract means cut-off farmers are at high risk of suicide, heart attack, stroke, and other health problems. We have seen these effects many times before. Access to information and support saves farms, houses, and lives.
The frustrating thing is that the proposed USDA GIPSA poultry rule – the one for which farmers have been fighting for more than a year now – might have prevented this situation altogether. One of the rule’s requirements was that contract must be long enough for farmers to recoup 80% of what they invest in their houses and equipment. It would also have prevented the company from requiring farmers to make expensive facilities upgrades. The added financial protection for farmers would have made a big difference for many of the cut-off growers. The extra financial incentive for companies to treat farmers fairly might have led the company to make a different decision.
This is not news. Two years ago, Pilgrim’s Pride’s bankruptcy left more than 40 NC growers without a contract. Many of those growers told the USDA last year that the rule was needed – and needed fast – so that other growers weren’t put in their position. (Watch cut-off grower Kay Doby testify at a USDA hearing.)
And yet Congress continues to try to stall the rule. 13 North Carolina representatives signed a “dear colleague” letter asking the USDA to withdraw the rule. The House passed a measure that would prevent the USDA from using any existing funding to write the rule. Thankfully, the Senate has not passed a similar measure, so there’s still a chance for the USDA to release a strong rule that protects growers in the future.
Meanwhile, here in North Carolina, we’re reminded again that obscure policies have a big impact on families.
As soon as the news broke, we began to get messages in our inboxes and Facebook wall and answering machines from poultry growers, wanting to know how they could help. In the weeks and months to come, there will be plenty to do. As long as farmers want to keep fighting – for their families, their futures, their homes, their farms, and their rights – we’ll be beside them.
Want to help?
Donate: Providing financial and legal information to farmers takes time and resources – and the more we have, the better services we can provide. Your donation helps us provide this and helps work towards policy change that makes sure that this doesn’t happen again.
Growers: We are working on setting up peer support networks for cut-off growers. If you are interested, please contact Becky Ceartas at email@example.comVolunteer: We always welcome volunteers, especially those who can help out regularly over a few months or more. Contact Regina Bridgman at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about current needs.
Stay tuned: Follow us on facebook and twitter and subscribe to our email list for up-to-date information.
Resources for Growers
The NCDA has set up a Web site to assist poultry growers. The Growers Assistance and Information Network, or GAIN, contains information and listings of resources that could assist growers with financial planning, alternative markets and other topics relevant to your situation. The site includes contact information for resources at state and federal agencies, universities and nonprofit organizations. It also offers a list of steps that growers can take if they find themselves without a contract.