Could Cooperative replace Tyson Foods in this region?

Published 11:42 pm Wednesday, January 17, 2024

When Tyson Foods closed its processing plant back in May of last year, it hurt 55 farmers in 13 counties. The only way to fix that damage is by finding a replacement, something to help fill the gap for the farmers and other businesses affected in Prince Edward and Cumberland. We’re now one step closer to seeing a replacement take shape. 

A $4.12 million grant to establish the Central Virginia Poultry Producers Cooperative is being considered by the Tobacco Region Revitalization Commission. The Commonwealth Regional Council is serving as the applicant for the request, which was discussed in closed session at the Tobacco Commission’s Jan. 9 meeting, where no action was taken. 

Information available on the grant submission is outlined in a resolution approved by the council in December allowing its officials to apply for the grant. At this point, officials are not making comments about the project citing its consideration during a tobacco commission meeting executive session.

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In response to The Herald’s request for an update on efforts to assist the region’s poultry producers, CRC Executive Director Melody Foster provided a brief statement.

“Due to this project being an ongoing Economic Development Project, the TRRC cannot make a comment at this time,” Foster wrote in a memo provided to the newspaper and sent to all CRC board members.

Lunenburg County Administrator Tracy Gee said in an email interview that the poultry farmers organized to pursue their next steps.

“Their specific plans have not been made public as they do not want to risk their position to secure a business model in our area due to industry competition,” Gee said.

What are the Cooperative’s plans?

The few details available are in the Commonwealth Regional Council resolution that states the Central Virginia Poultry Cooperative plans to produce and sell cage-free and organic cage-free table eggs.

“CVP contacted a North Main Middlebury, Indiana based producer of cage-free and pasture-raised table eggs,” the resolution states. “CVP will be establishing a farmer-owned cooperative to become a supply of eggs to this producer to help them fill their needs for more egg production.”

The resolution said the cooperative will serve all of the CRC region, including Amelia, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Lunenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties.

The resolution further states that the Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund Planning Grant and cooperative members are providing $39.18 million in matching funds as part of the plan to convert broiler production houses for the cage-free table egg operations.

Gee said they also can use the Enterprise Zone Tax Incentives to assist poultry producers, adding “that doesn’t rule out other support from the county or the IDA (Industrial Development Authority), if they see fit.”

Formation of the cooperative is in response to Tyson Foods’ March 2023 announcement closing its Glenn Allen broiler processing complex and ending its relationships with central Virginia contract poultry producers, according to the CRC resolution.

“This closure shuttered 265 farmer-owned production houses in central Virginia,” the resolution states. “The estimated economic impact to the region was a $358 million dollar loss annually.”

State helps replace Tyson Foods 

In December, the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund awarded a $35,000 planning grant to assist with formation of the cooperative.

“This grant will help mitigate the loss of an essential broiler processing complex, support Virginia poultry growers and their communities, and demonstrate that Virginia welcomes rural economic development,” said Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Matthew Lohr in a Dec. 11 news release. “Agriculture is the

foundation of Virginia’s economy and poultry is our top agricultural commodity. The strength and momentum of the industry must continue, and our administration is committed to doing that.”

The December meeting minutes for the CRC state that the award will be matched by the seven member localities and will be used for organizational costs related to the establishment of the cooperative.

According to these CRC minutes, Foster stated the tobacco commission invited the poultry Growers to apply for funds for start-up costs for the cooperative. 

“This round of grant funding was by invitation only,” the minutes stated.

What’s the next steps?

Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Joseph Guthrie said that officials from his departments and other state agencies have been working with former Tyson employees, growers, industry stakeholders and county officials to provide resources and aid in determining next steps.

“Establishing the Central Virginia Poultry Cooperative is a tremendous step forward, as it will protect the interests of central Virginia poultry farmers and work to attract new poultry businesses into the region,” Guthrie said as part of the planning grant announcement.