Time for changes 

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As you likely know, Tyson and Smithfield have announced the closing of facilities in Missouri and Arkansas.

Smithfield is closing 35 hog farms in Northern Missouri, and Tyson is closing four poultry processing plants in North Little Rock, Ark.; Dexter and Noel, Mo.; and Corydon, Ind. Tyson also closed a processing facility in Van Buren, Ark., in May. Thousands of jobs will be lost.

There will also be more than two dozen local farmers who supply birds to the Tyson plants that will be impacted, and those communities will be hit hard economically by the closures, as will state economies. 

If you have never lived in a small community where one of the largest employers in the area shuts down, you see things slowly decline. In my hometown, there used to be a poultry processing facility, a clothing manufacture, and a couple of smaller companies that paid pretty decent. It takes a long time, decades in many cases, to recover from job losses like that.

My former ag econ professor could attest that I am far from an economist, but higher ups at processing companies have lived a little too high on the hog the last several years.

Both companies reported an upswing in sales during COVID and are now blaming an unstable economy, increased input costs and slumping sales for the closures. Tyson also laid off a chunk of folks from the corporate office, but the guys in charge are fine financially.

In 2022, according to talkbusiness.net, Tyson Foods reported a record fiscal revenue of $53.28 billion and net income of $3.249 billion, which led to higher pay for most company’s executives, according to a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission on Dec. 21. 

Tyson Foods CEO Donnie King earned total compensation of $12 million, up 33 percent from 2021. King’s base salary of $1.3 million was raised from $980,464. Stock awards increased to $5.1 million, a gain of 39 percent. Bonus pay rose to $3.432 million and is tied to the company’s overall financial performance.

I couldn’t locate the salary or compensation received by Smithfield President and CEO Shane Smith, who took over in 2021 and was the company’s third CEO within eight months. Still, I assume it is well above the wages earned by those working on the production lines and by the farmers. 

I’ve read some commentary stating these closings might be good for agriculture because it will cause more people to seek out local producers. I am all for going local as much as possible, but the nation needs more state- or federally-inspected processors to keep up with their current demand. We’ve seen more and more processors since COVID, but it’s still not enough. Most consumers also can not afford a whole or half of an animal, nor do they have the freezer space. Farmer and ranchers can sell by the cut, if inspected, but it often takes a while to sell a whole animal. What do you do when you have 200 calves, or more, or even 100 hogs to process and sell? 

Unfortunately, we need the packers and processors, but it’s time to take a look at the higher links on the food chain and see exactly why the rich keep getting richer, while taking away the livelihood of others. It’s time for our state and national leaders to focus on agriculture and making our family farms and ranches, and our communities. 

Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected].

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