The problems of those raising chickens under contract with large poultry producers are legend. The contracts rarely seem to benefit growers, who borrow hundreds of thousands of dollars to construct growing barns only to find themselves indentured to the company. On Tuesday, the federal Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration published rules intended to “provide poultry growers with new information and improve transparency in poultry growing arrangements.”
The terms seem unremarkable to the world outside contract poultry growing. The new rules provide that a “poultry grower must be provided a true written copy of a poultry growing arrangement in a timely manner.” The new rules loosen confidentiality clauses in these contracts, allowing farmers to discuss contracts with federal agencies and immediate family members. Farmers have to be notified 90 days before a contract is terminated or not renewed.
Poultry farmers can now talk about their growing contracts with their husbands or wives — and in this business that’s a great improvement. The Rural Advancement Foundation International has been fighting with contractors over these issues for years, and the organization of contract growers put out a press release praising the new rules. The RAFI press release quotes an Arkansas grower:
“I’m glad that USDA is taking action to protect growers,” said Kevin Hux, a farmer in El Dorado, Ark., who raised chickens for Pilgrim’s Pride until April, when the company closed its El Dorado processing plant and terminated 170 growers. “When the company terminated my contract, the company representative left a message on my answering machine saying that the flock of chickens that we had would be our last,” Kevin said. “We had no warning. No one should be in that situation.”