An anonymous letter from an American contract poultry farmer
Our team at RAFI recently received an anonymous letter from a farmer regarding unfair poultry contracts that have plagued farms in North Georgia. By this farmer’s accounts, countless farm families have suffered at the hands of Tyson for many years, and treatment of growers is only getting worse.
For nearly 30 years, RAFI has worked front-line with farmers to create a more sustainable and just agricultural system. We know what farmers are up against each day, and we don’t take reports, like this letter, lightly. We dearly care about American farmers, their families, and the prosperity of rural communities. They deserve fair treatment and a chance to make a meaningful living. So, when we receive a letter like the one we discuss here, regarding growers of North Georgia, our hearts break for these farmers and their community.
We hear you. And we know you’re telling the truth.
Reading this anonymous farmer’s letter, a few things become readily apparent:
- This person is telling the truth. This letter contains too much detail and industry jargon to be fictitious.
- These farmers are desperately looking for help, their income has suffered terribly, and they live in fear of losing their farms, their homes, and their families.
- They are terrified of their company knowing their identity. The letter specifically states, “Most growers we spoke with were willing to share their stories… if we did not mention their name, farm name, farm location, or take any identifiable pictures.”
The last two sentences of this farmer’s letter speaks volumes: “We hope you will do your own investigation… before growers lose their farms or worse – more commit suicide. This can only change with your help!”
This farmer is entirely correct. We can only change our system of poultry production with your help. You, the consumer, have to get involved by supporting the reform of our livestock and poultry production system. Stay current on new developments in contract agriculture reform and stay informed about calls to action by reading news from RAFI, Farm Aid, and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). Know where your food comes from and how it is produced.
You, the farmer, also have to get involved. Like this brave farmer, we need more farmers to speak out and tell their stories. America needs to hear more from our farmers, so we can identify the problems and craft solutions that work.
North Carolina Farmer, Genell Pridgen, is one example of a farmer who has spoken out on behalf of fellow farmers and has been successful in her transition out of contract farming. Through their hard work, Genell and her family transitioned their century-old farm to pastured poultry and hog, and recently opened a butcher shop and restaurant to serve their meats and house-made sausages. Last year, Pridgen wrote an op-ed, speaking out on behalf of her fellow farmers and seeking to hold our elected officials accountable. For her tireless work, Genell has been recognized as one of 22 women inspiring and creating a better worldwide food system.
The anonymous farmer’s letter shows how contract poultry is ruining America’s farming communities, robbing them of their economic prosperity. Here are a few excerpts from the letter:
“Tyson over the last seven years has pushed the limits of their contract with independent poultry growers by bullying them, causing many of them economic hardship, and ever worse – suicide. Due to the large debt owed, these family farm growers will not speak out against company practices fearing retaliation or even contract termination.”
“Many Tyson growers have been bullied into doing even more upgrades after their houses met the previous management’s specifications. If the grower does not do the additional upgrade(s) then they are threatened to have less birds placed into their houses, to have no birds placed into their houses, or to have their contract terminated.”
“Utility increases over the last decade have not been offset in pay by Tyson. Tyson has also failed to offer any supplement for electricity usage during summer months. Heating fuels like propane used by poultry farms can be very volatile in price. Propane has doubled, and even tripled at times, over the years… The average sized family farm is now spending over an additional $13,000 for utilities since upgrading their poultry houses to Tyson’s specifications.”
“Most growers we spoke with were willing to share their stories about the poultry business and company practices if we did not mention their name, farm name, farm location or take any identifiable pictures.”
“These family farm growers of North Georgia need your help. We hope you will do your own investigation and shed light on Tyson’s poultry business practices before growers lose their farms or worse – more commit suicide. This can only change with your help!”
How you can help
If you’re a contract farmer, please reach out and tell us your story. RAFI wants to hear your stories and let your experience influence the policies we recommend. If you are a contract farmer facing similar abuses from your integrator, please reach out. We can advise you as to your options and refer you to the best available resources.
If you are a farmer considering contract agriculture contact RAFI. We can help navigate contracts to ensure your protection. We can provide a copy of our FSA credit guide, A Poultry Grower’s Guide to FSA Loans, complete with three different cash-flow projections to help you evaluate if this business is right for your farm. We also provide other resources for you to read before you sign a contract.
If you’re a consumer tired of the mistreatment of farmers and the land at the hands of Big Agriculture, call your House representative and tell them to support the remaining GIPSA regulation, sign-up for the RAFI newsletter, or at the very least say “thank you” the next time you meet a farmer.
“This can only change with your help!”
If you are a farmer who wishes to share your story or to discuss contract poultry farming, please contact Tyler Whitley at 919-621-0534 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.