Contract Agriculture Reform

Production contracts can be useful when implemented in good-faith. These contracts can reduce risk to farmers and give them entry to an industry they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. However, production contracts in the poultry industry are not good-faith contracts. Poultry production contracts are one-sided, contracts of adhesion between massive companies (integrators) and farmers that rely on misinformation and exploitation of land, labor, and rural communities.

At RAFI-USA, we believe contract farming can be useful for farmers to reduce their risk and diversify their farm operations. However, sweeping reforms are necessary to ensure this system is beneficial for the farmers who raise the poultry, the laborers who process the poultry, and the communities that support this industry. RAFI -USA supports transparent and fairly negotiated contracts across all agricultural transactions, including between farmers and integrators.

Many farmers who sign poultry production contracts later find themselves in a frightening financial situation. Over our 25+ years of experience advocating for contract poultry growers, we have heard countless stories of financial ruin. As currently structured, this industry leaves many farmers with extreme debt, highly variable pay, an inability to cover their costs, and bankruptcy. We have seen the effects of this industry in rural communities. The extreme market power vertically integrated poultry corporations bring to rural communities pushes small, independent farmers and suppliers out of business. 

We stand by and value farmers, as we do with all those who labor in agriculture. As such, RAFI-USA works closely with contract livestock producers across the Southeast to understand their experiences in contract farming. Drawing primarily from farmers’ experiences in contract poultry production, we analyze the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the contract agriculture system. In collaboration with other farm organizations, RAFI-USA uses data and first-hand accounts to make policy recommendations aimed at returning viability to farmers and rural communities and creating alternatives to this exploitative system. The current system is not sustainable and changes must occur to ensure the long-term viability of farmers, their communities, and the environment. 

If you are considering signing a poultry or livestock production contract, or if you currently have one, the most important step to protecting your farm is to know the risks. Review our resources and guides for contract farmers.

Have questions or need help? Contact us.

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Stand with Farm Families Campaign

In May 2019, we shared that the USDA released a notice of proposed rulemaking. This indicated that in Summer 2019 the agency would begin writing rules critical to protecting contract poultry and livestock farmers from illegal and unfair corporate business practices including retaliation. The new rule will seek to clarify Section 202(b) of the Packers and Stockyard’s Act, which was passed into law in 1921 in response to rampant abuses in the meatpacking industry. The rule release will be followed by a 60-day public comment period. Click here to read our specific rule guidance about what must be included in order to be effective in protecting farmers.

In June 2019, we launched a #StandwithFarmFamilies campaign including a petition to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and campaign webpage: www.standwithfarmfamilies.org.

In July, we traveled with with a group of farmers to DC to meet with their legislators about this issue. The group in DC included farmers from 7 states – South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina. During the trip, farmers made a total of 33 Hill visits, spoke to USDA representatives, met with staffers from the Senate and House Ag. Committees, held a Congressional briefing, and live streamed a farmer press conference. Senator Tester (D-MT) and Congresswoman Kaptur (D-OH) circulated a Dear Colleague letter which was sent to Under Secretary Ibach on July 30th, 2019. In October 2019, we delivered the petition to the USDA with more than 84,000 signatures. Learn more: rafiusa.org/blog/standwithfarmfamilies and rafiusa.org/blog/DCTripRecap

Stand with Farm Families is a project of RAFI-USA, Organization for Competitive Markets, and Government Accountability Project.

Farmers deserve freedom of speech. Farmers deserve to be treated with dignity, free from company intimidation or retaliation. Farmers deserve the right to organize. These are rights that have been denied to many livestock and poultry farmers for far too long.

Farmer Stories… 

After raising poultry for 12 years, Anthony Grigsby and his wife, Christy, are facing bankruptcy as a result of company retaliation.

For almost 30 years, Carlton Sanders endured racial discrimination on top of the predatory practices of the company he worked for. When he spoke up, the company retaliated, forcing him to lose his livelihood, his health, and his family.

For the past 20 years, Greg has raised chickens under contract with the same company. In 2019, they terminated his contract without warning. Greg and his wife have now filed for bankruptcy and put their chicken houses up for sale.


Poultry Growers on the John Oliver: This Week Tonight Show

In May 2015, HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver featured a segment on chicken farmers and the poultry industry. They also featured footage from RAFI-USA’s documentary, Under Contract, on the show. RAFI-USA has a long history working with poultry farmers for reform in contract agriculture, and we’ve put together some research to give you a quick overview of the data behind the issues highlighted in the show. Read our viewers guide to the show to get all the details.

Poultry Industry Overview

Still have questions about how the poultry industry works? Check out this infographic.