Chicken producers in the South will see significant impact of this week’s damaging storms, but grocery store prices should weather better.
Severe weather tore through several southern states on Wednesday night, leaving destroyed farms in its path. Poultry farms in Northern Alabama sustained a lot of damage due to the heavy winds and tornadoes.
"Two hundred to 250 houses were probably destroyed and there are probably 500 houses moderately to severely damaged," says Ray Hilburn of Alabama Poultry and Egg Association.
In those destroyed and damaged houses, authorities believe there were probably 5 million birds, many of which survived the storm.
"It is terrible to individual growers," Hilburn says, "but we process 21.5 million chickens a week so that’s not even one day’s production really."
These storms are devastating to farmers, but the National Chicken Council (NCC) doesn’t believe it will impact markets much.
"We run 9 billion birds a year," says Richard Lobb, director of communications at NCC. "They got hit hard and it’s a big poultry state but there’s not going to be any significant impact on the market."
Hilburn agrees that the impact of this tragedy will not be felt by the consumer, but will weigh heavy on producers. "It’s devastating to individual farm owners," Hilburn said. "We’ve got 12,000 plus producers in this state and this will affect less than 1,000 of them, but to those owners it is devastating."
Local and National authorities are working to bring relief to producers in the area. Alabama commissioner of agriculture, John McMillan, says President Obama will be in the area today and Ag SecretaryVilsack will offer his help as well. McMillan realizes that Alabama was not the only state affected by the storms, but promises officials will work hard to help producers get back on their feet.
"It’s going to be a challenge for government at all levels and agencies at all levels as well," McMillan says.
What Happens Next?
Birds from damaged houses are being transported to processing facilities or other farms.
"We’re already moving chickens to other places like southern Alabama and up to Tennessee," Hilburn says. "We’re moving birds that we can get to and that are big enough to process."
Broiler chickens that were not of age to process are being transported to other farms that don’t have birds on them right now to continue growing to maturity. Even birds in houses that didn’t suffer severe damage must be moved soon because of the rolling power outages occurring in the area.
"There’s a continuing concern about electrical power, they’re having wide-spread outages," Lobb says. "Producers need power for environmental controls and feeding systems."
Producers are using generators to keep intact houses operating, but Lobb compared this event to Katrina in saying that fuel shortage will be the next major concern.
"A lot of producers are using generators right now," he says. "The question is, will they be able to get diesel fuel to continue running their generators."
Water shortage is another problem facing the growers. One of the hardest hit farms was a large layer hen operation in northern Alabama. They use 20,000 gallons of water per day and are not able to get the water needed to operate the chicken houses properly. The National Guard has been called in to help bring water relief to the area.
"We’re trying to get as much help as we possibly can to all the producers and farmers," Hilburn says.
The growers plan to rebuild, but it will be a long road. Many of the houses affected were totally destroyed. McMillan hopes his state’s growers will receive some assistance.
"There is going to have to be some help from the government in getting these houses rebuilt and putting these growers back in business," he says.