Butterball canceling contracts in county

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

An undisclosed number of Carroll County turkey growers have been informed that their contracts with Butterball LLC will be canceled within 90 days.

One local grower who asked not to be identified because he is still under contract said he was notified by phone in mid-December that his agreement would be canceled.

“It was a real sudden deal,” the grower said. “They gave various growers various reasons and none of them make sense. Basically, they don’t want us anymore. They’re trying to figure out some way of getting us out of there. … There was no heads up, no warning, no inclination, nothing. Just a phone call.”

Butterball, the largest producer of turkey products in the United States, said through a spokesperson that the local contract cancellations are related to changes at its Carthage, Mo., processing plant that the company announced in early December. Butterball said it plans to lay off 450 of the plant’s 850 employees over several months beginning in March.

“Long-term adverse conditions in the commodities market, where Butterball has routinely sold excess protein produced at the facility, has resulted in the need to ramp down certain production processes at this location over the course of several months, beginning no sooner than March 1, 2021,” the spokesperson said by email. “This change will impact a limited number of turkey growers in the Midwest, including Carroll County, Arkansas. We have appreciated the hard work and partnership of these growers and wish them continued success. We are abiding by the terms and conditions of our grower contracts and we have been in communication with all impacted growers.”

Asked how many local growers will be affected, the spokesperson replied that it will be “a limited number,” but didn’t provide a specific figure.

According to a published report, about 20 turkey farmers in Osage County, Mo., were notified in April 2020 that their contracts with Butterball would be terminated. The company cited low value of commercial turkey meat and weakened international demand.

Closer to home, the local turkey grower said he was concerned not only about how the decision will affect his own finances but also the community’s.

“It’s a corporate decision, I understand,” he said. “But there’s a lot more to it than that. You take the trickle-down effect of all those dollars in the community, it’s huge. It’s millions. It’s turned valuable farms into worth nothing. If you’ve got six turkey houses and no contract, you don’t have anything.”

Arkansas ranked fifth among all U.S. states in turkey production between Sept. 1, 2018, and Aug. 31, 2019, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Arkansas produced 30 million turkeys in that one-year period, according to the USDA, with a value of $333.5 million. Carroll County, in turn, is the fourth-leading turkey-producing county in Arkansas, according to The Poultry Federation, a Little Rock-based trade organization representing the poultry and egg industry in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.

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