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Growers Scratching Out A Living

13 August 2007

US - More than a hundred Northwest Arkansas poultry farmers are lobbying Tyson Foods Inc. for contractual agreements that give them more money, a response to what they call years of inaction by the meat giant amid skyrocketing business costs.

Tyson: MD

The group’s leaders say the Springdale company is putting off raising the payments per pound of chicken to hedge against its own growing costs. Meanwhile, rapid increases in fuel and living expenses have put these independent farms in jeopardy, they say.

The farmers want another penny-and-a-half per pound added to their contracts, an increase in fuel allowances and an electricity allowance. As of last week, they had not heard back from Tyson.

Donnie King, Tyson’s group vice president of operations, said in a recent interview at company headquarters that Tyson is reviewing the poultry growers’ request for more money but is also looking at the long-term strategy for chicken production in Northwest Arkansas.

“We certainly have no intentions to make our [profit ] number, if you will, at their expense,” King said.

Tyson Foods has 6, 200 contract growers nationwide who contract with the company and are paid on a per-pound basis. Each grower belongs to what Tyson calls a “complex,” which is served by company technicians and managers who often live in the same communities as the farmers.

Don McClung owns four chicken houses, a realty business and other interests in and around Berryville, about eight miles east of Eureka Springs in Carroll County. Five years ago he returned to the Army Special Forces at the age of 54 to fight in Afghanistan. When he returned home, he faced another battle.

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