Meat Industry INSIGHTS Newsletter

990538 Georgia & Arkansas Rivals in Poultry Business

May 17, 1999

Gainesville, GA - Visitors are often puzzled at first. Then they begin cackling at the notion -- a park dedicated to chickens.

Many take the short stroll from a local motel to the green space featuring a monument topped by a bronze rooster. They can read about the history of poultry and about the park, established in 1977 by industry and city officials and believed to be the only one of its kind in the world.

Folks can pause on benches to ponder poultry or watch traffic go by on Jesse Jewell Parkway, named for a Depression-era farmer who was a Georgia poultry industry pioneer.

And, for good measure, the park and several city signs declare Gainesville “the poultry capital of the world.”

“Gainesville has really built up around the poultry business,” said Doug Carnes, vice president for poultry operations at Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., which grows, processes and sells chickens by the hundreds of thousands each day.

Besides jobs on the farms and in the processing plants, the industry is tied to numerous related equipment, food-service, transportation and other companies in the state in which poultry is the No. 1 revenue-producing agricultural product.

However, amid all the poultry pride, farmers and officials here often hop over one fact -- that Arkansas has also claimed to rule the industry roost.

“We readily admit that for many, many years, we were No. 1. We have to also admit that for a small time, we settled back into second,” said Tommy Irvin, Georgia's agriculture commissioner for 30 years.

“Now, our expertise has gotten us back to No. 1, solidly, and we will remain there,” he said.

“It's been a back-and-forth situation; pretty much a good-natured bantering that goes on,” explained Randall Smallwood, publisher of the Poultry & Eggs News in Gainesville.

Arkansas industry officials downplay the competition.

“We're not running a race with them,” said Randy Wyatt, executive vice president of the Arkansas Poultry Federation.

He explained that a more important concern for industry farmers and officials both there and in Georgia is working together on environmental issues, safety and disease control.

“As an industry, the companies all seem to lay aside their competitive differences and focus on the issues that affect us all,” Wyatt said.

Like the chicken-or-the-egg, the question of which state's poultry industry ranks first has been a matter of long debate. There are various measures of the industry; statistics include eggs, laying hens and turkeys.

The major segment, though, is broilers -- the young chickens ticketed for quick trips to dinner tables or fast-food bags.

Chris Messer, deputy state agricultural statistician for Georgia, said for broilers, Georgia led the nation from the 1940s through the 1960s, with Arkansas taking the lead in the '70s and holding it until recent years.

Complicating the rankings is the fact that even the broiler segment is cut up -- by number, by weight, and by dollar value.

U.S. Department of Agriculture figures show Arkansas led in all three categories in 1994; in 1995, Georgia led in pounds and value; in '96, Arkansas led in number and pounds produced. But in 1997, Georgia took the lead in all three broiler categories.

The latest federal figures showed Georgia retained its leadership in all three broiler categories, producing 1.2 billion birds in the 16th consecutive year of growth, with total weight of 5.9 billion pounds and value of $2.4 billion.

Georgia poultry officials were elated on April 29, when 1998 figures showed the state No. 1 in all three categories again.

Arkansas, however, has other things going for it, said Wyatt, who called attention to Arkansas being the home base of chicken giant Tyson Foods and of the world-class agricultural research carried out at the University of Arkansas.

“I don't know of anyone in Arkansas that calls themselves that (the poultry capital of the world),” Wyatt said, then paused. “That's fine.”

Another Arkansas response is to simply talk turkey. Georgia produced only 175,000 turkeys statewide in 1997 while Arkansas production is nearly 30 million birds a year.

Frank Jones, a poultry official in the University of Arkansas cooperative extension service, noted recently that while Arkansas ranks third nationally in turkeys (behind North Carolina and Minnesota), “Georgia is not even on the map.”

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