By Mickey Box, Poultry grower, Arkansas
Last month, the Ukrainian company that bought two North Carolina Townsend plants shut them down, laying off hundreds of workers and terminating the contracts of more than 150 contract poultry growers. As a poultry grower, I know how devastating a lost contract would be. Poultry growers are often hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, and if a company cuts you off, there’s no way to pay it. For the cut-off growers, the plant closing is going to ruin lives and destroy the livelihoods of hardworking family farmers.
The USDA has proposed a rule that might have protected these farmers. The rule, known as the GIPSA rule, would give growers the right to recoup 80% of what they invest in their poultry operation, and it would protect them from being forced to make expensive upgrades. If the rule had been in place, cutting off the contracts of 200 of my fellow farmers might not have been such a cost-effective option for the company. The cut-off growers would certainly be in a better financial situation than they are now.
Unfortunately, the rule has been slow in coming, and Congress has put pressure on the USDA to slow it down even further. The House of Representatives even passed language that would kill the rule altogether.
Two years ago, Pilgrim’s Pride made cuts similar to the ones we saw this month, leaving hundreds of farmers saddled with debt. Many of those growers had federally guaranteed loans. When the company walked away and farmers were forced to default on their payments, taxpayers were left holding the bill. The farmers were left facing bankruptcy, a high risk of suicide and stress-related health problems, and the loss of their farms. Last year, many of those farmers asked the USDA to pass the GIPSA rule quickly, so that no other farmer would be put in their situation. Now, for 150 more families, the rule is too late.
We needed this rule a long time ago, and each day we wait is another day that farmers are at risk for losing their farms when the next plant closing comes down the line. I hope Senators Pryor and Boozman will vote against any amendment that will kill or delay the GIPSA rule. We need them to do what’s right and support the hundreds of family farmers in Arkansas and around the nation who grow chicken under contract.