N. Alabama poultry industry ravaged by tornadoes

by Bryan Salvage
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Wednesday’s tornadoes and storms in the south caused multimillion-dollar damage to the poultry industry in north Alabama, said Alabama’s agriculture commissioner John McMillan, according to The Associated Press. Alabama is the third-largest US chicken producer, behind Georgia and Arkansas.

More than 300 people died from the storms that struck Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia – and an estimated 5 million chickens have perished in tornadoes that ripped through Alabama. Approximately 200 poultry houses were destroyed and another 180 damaged in that state. One estimate stated 25 percent of the state’s poultry houses were either damaged or destroyed. One standard poultry house can hold approximately 20,000 chickens. The loss of drinking water and power outages could worsen the situation. Field inspectors from the state Department of Agriculture and Industries are assisting state emergency management efforts, he said.

“Unfortunately, [the damage] appears to be quite extensive [in the states hit by the storms],” National Chicken Council Director of Communications Richard Lobb told MEATPOULTRY.com. “Approximately six processing plants are without power and there is no immediate estimate how long it will take to get them back into operation. One plant in the Tuscaloosa area suffered extensive roof damage and will be out of operation for possibly a month.”

Reuters reported that Pilgrim's Pride Corp., which is majority owned by JBS SA, indicated some of its complexes were damaged by the storms plus its processing plants in Guntersville and Boaz were without power.
Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson told MEATPOULTRY.com, “We’re coordinating plans for food and water distribution beginning Friday [April 29] to our north Alabama employees and contract poultry growers who have been affected by the storm. In addition, we’re working to make sure the contract farms also have the necessary supplies of feed. Our efforts are being coordinated by a team of Tyson staff members from North Alabama, other Tyson plant locations in the region and the company’s Arkansas headquarters.”

Tyson’s Blountsville and Albertville, Ala., chicken processing plants were not damaged by the storm but were idled Wednesday when they lost power. Although the power is back on at Blountsville, it has not been restored at Albertville.

“We’re still assessing the damage to contract chicken farms, but can confirm that some chicken houses in the area were destroyed and others experienced various levels of damage,” Mickelson said. “Our plan is to assist our growers as much as possible with clean up efforts and ensure the affected birds are properly handled in conjunction with state veterinary authorities.”

Lobb said about 200 growout houses were destroyed and at least 300 more, and possibly more than that, suffered damage.

“Many areas in north Alabama are without electrical power, which means farmers are relying on generators to run houses,” Lobb said. “It is a difficult situation all around, but we understand that other companies have stepped up to offer assistance, for example, taking birds that would normally be processed by the plants that are temporarily out of operation.

“Based on experience [the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina comes to mind], it will be several days before all the losses can be reported,” Lobb continued. “But it’s obvious this was quite a hit. Putting it in perspective, however, Alabama has 10,000 to 12,000 chicken houses and produces about 1 billion birds per year. So there is expected to be little market impact.”

“But of course, the impact on individual farm families and on plant workers is considerable, and the industry will do everything it can to get back into normal operation as soon as possible,” added Mike Brown, NCC president.
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