It was four years ago in Siloam Springs, Ark., that about 200 farm families gathered for the first meeting of Poultry Partners. The organization mission statement was very simple:  We are a grassroots coalition of family farmers whose mission is to band together to ensure survival of the family farm and our rural communities.
Today the membership has grown to about 450 farm families. Jerry Hunton, of Lincoln, Ark., is the group’s president.
I’m proud of what we have been able to accomplish for the farmers, I just wish we could do more. If we could put all our efforts into three words, it would be simple – to help farmers.
We organized in March 2005 and before we could hardly get our feet on the ground, we were dealing with legal issues. Our very first undertaking was to help growers that were being drawn into the Oklahoma versus poultry company lawsuit. We have spent the past four years trying to make sure these farmers have some legal representation when they have been called in for depositions. Without Poultry Partners' efforts, I don’t think many of these growers would have been able to afford a lawyer.
I’ve been through one of these depositions and I would not want to do it without our lawyer. The room was full of lawyers, both from the poultry companies and those that represented the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office. It was good to have someone represent me when I had questions or concerns about the way things were going or the questions being asked.
The Oklahoma lawsuit has been the biggest issue we’ve had to deal with. We’ve tried to represent the farmers’ issues and views, and we've filed briefs with the court. So many times I’ve heard it said, “Well the farmers aren’t the ones being sued.” But in the end, it’s the farmers that have to deal with, and implement, whatever decisions are made. It is very important that we continue to make the farmers’ voices heard to both the court and the public.
The organization has offered outreach education classes for growers from financial planning and pest control issues to biomass stoves for heating poultry houses.
Poultry Partners has worked very closely with Winrock International of Little Rock and the USDA to provide training programs and workshops to growers. From September through November of 2008, the group held six meetings from Idabel, Okla., to Neosho, Mo., addressing the issue of high utility costs and heating poultry houses. Winrock commissioned Jim Wimberly to do a professional analysis on all the options of heating poultry houses, and paid to have the report published. Each Poultry Partner member received the book and all were invited meetings.
There were about 285 farmers that attended to hear how to save money on heating bills and figure out what their options were. The recent propane price decrease has given farmers a little bit of time to research the options and figure out what is best for them. No two farms are exactly alike so there is no right and wrong answer.
Information for filing tax forms as well as poultry farming economics presented by Dr. H.L. Goodwin of the University of Arkansas has been presented at several meetings. About 250 folks attended the Ozark Poultry Growers Symposium in March, with programs on energy grants, darkling beetles, incorporating litter into the land and poultry house ventilation.
There is a lot of information to be had, and educating yourself is a step in the direction of success in this industry.


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