The collapse of the chicken market nationally is creating economic turmoil in much of the rural South, where farmers have invested heavily in chicken houses. David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times reports from Silar City, North Carolina, “The worst recession in decades has hammered all types of businesses across the country, farming included. But among the hardest hit are contract chicken farmers in the South and especially in North Carolina, the nation’s second leading poultry producer, where it is a $3.3 billion industry.”
Thousands of farmers invested millions of dollars in chicken houses and equipment. They signed contracts with large processors — Tyson’s, Pilgrim’s Pride — and earned a small percentage on their investment for raising chicks. When demand for chicken dropped, the chicken processors began cutting back. Pilgrim’s filed for bankruptcy. In six central North Carolina counties, Zucchino reports, 44 farmers (who owe at least $18 million to banks on their chicken house investments) lost their contracts with Pilgrim’s. Nationally, 900 chicken farmers have lost contracts since last fall.
Zucchino visits with chicken farmer Andrew Meeks, who lost his contract with Pilgrim’s and has put his farm up for sale. (There are no lookers.) “All I ever aspired to be was a farmer. Chicken farming is a good life,” he said, sitting in his frame house at dusk, gazing out at this three forlorn chicken houses. “Now I don’t know what I’ll do. I have no idea.