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Tyson Foods Inc. announced new ways the company will bridge the gap between itself and the thousands of contract farmers who raise its chickens.

To better understand the growers' perspective, Tyson is developing a chicken advisory council -- made for chicken growers, by chicken growers -- and investing in updated technology for enhanced communications. One is a mobile application for farmers. Another is a website that laid out a poultry grower "Bill of Rights," which clarifies parts of the chicken contract system, according to Tyson.

"We value the farmers who raise our chickens and work hard to maintain good relationships with them, but also know we can do better," Doug Ramsey, group president of Poultry for Tyson Food, said in a statement. "That's why we're taking steps to enhance how we interact with them."

One of those steps is a new poultry advisory council designed to be a platform for contract growers to share feedback on the poultry industry. Tyson can use the comments to "gather insights that might help us improve how we operate," Ramsey said in the statement.

Details on the initial advisory council and how contract growers can become members are being determined, Tyson said.

The group plans to meet periodically at Tyson's home offices in Springdale to discuss grower issues with executive leadership. Issues like expenses, such as electricity and gas, labor costs and chick and feed delivery delays, have already come up over dinner, said Brent Butler, one of the current advisory council members.

Butler, 55, of Siloam Springs, has grown chickens for Tyson Foods the past decade. His family, including his sons and some outside help, work the farm. Over the phone Thursday, Butler said there's been some councils beforehand for poultry growers, but none quite like this.

Instead of passing information to field technicians or county supervisors, this advisory council gives growers a direct line to leadership at Tyson. Butler said it's working.

"Tyson's spending a lot of time to create an atmosphere so we can open up and talk without fear of retaliation," he said. "They want to know what's going on."

So far the grower advisory council has held two meetings. The most recent was in April. The first was in November, just after Thanksgiving. From these meetings came new developments for poultry growers announced on Thursday.

One tool in development is a mobile application for independent poultry growers. When finished, the application will have helpful tips, industry news and email updates from Tyson for poultry growers. This information can be currently found on growwithtyson.com. A release date for the application has not been set.

There's also a website with information distilled from Tyson contracts that details entitlements for independent poultry growers. A spokesman with Tyson said in an email that the company wanted to translate the independent poultry grower contract into "easy-to-understand" language for those interested in how the system works. Tyson calls it the "Contract Poultry Farmers' Bill of Rights."

The document explains a grower's right to discuss his contract with outside parties; the right to a fixed-length contract -- usually three to seven years, sometimes 10-15 years -- that can "only be terminated for cause"; the right for the poultry farmer to terminate a Tyson Foods contract for "any reason or no reason at all" by giving a 90-day written notice; and the right to join an association of contract poultry farmers.

Tyson has about 3,600 independent poultry growers who combined earn more than $800 million per year, company data show. The average farmer has worked 15 years with Tyson, some have worked for three generations.

Mitchell Crutchfield, 66, grew Tyson Foods chickens for 25 years in Clarksville. Tyson stopped delivering day-old chicks to Crutchfield in 2012, in effect, canceling the contract. He and his wife, Karen, filed for bankruptcy protection soon after to save their farm.

Crutchfield said it seemed like Thursday's announcements would be good for the growers -- as long as Tyson reached out to enough growers for input.

"They can't just have four or five pet growers to get a picture of what's going on," Crutchfield said Thursday. Farmers in good standing with Tyson Foods are what Mitchell and Karen Crutchfield call "pet growers."

Oftentimes, Crutchfield said, growers will be open about their problems at the gas station or local store, but put them in an official meeting and "they get awful quiet."

Business on 05/04/2018

Print Headline: Council is a part of Tyson outreach

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