Much has changed in the last 25 years, but not Georgia’s position as the nation’s leader in broiler production. In terms of total poultry production, if Georgia were a country, it would rank fourth in the world.
More than 5,000 Georgia farms produced $5.7 billion in poultry meat and eggs in 2012. That supports more than 100,000 Georgia jobs, contributing to a total economic impact to the state of well over $18 billion, according to the Georgia Poultry Federation.
One reason why Georgia’s poultry industry is so successful is their business model of vertical integration.
“Vertical integration has evolved over the past 50 to 60 years, but the idea is to bring together various business entities which were originally separate, such as the feed mill, hatchery, processing plants and more, under one company,” says Mike Giles, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation. “It makes everything more efficient and gives farmers a way to diversify their operations, leading to more income.”
Savannah native Norman W. Fries formed Claxton Poultry in 1958, opening a broiler processing plant in 1959.
“Today, Claxton Poultry is one of Georgia’s largest family-owned egg-to-market poultry producers,” says Tobin Spirer, a Claxton Poultry spokesperson.
Claxton Poultry estimates a $200 million annual impact just from its Evans County operation. That includes wages, taxes, family farm contracts, power purchases and local feed purchases.
That impact is growing. In 2013, the company expanded its Claxton plant and increased its Glennville hatchery capacity. Expansion at its feed mill in Surrency is underway, and Claxton Poultry will add about 75 more chicken houses on existing and new farms.
Such expansion will increase total production nearly 20 percent, say Claxton officials, creating about 75 new facility jobs.
“The company maintains an aggressive community employment outreach program that year-round invites qualified workers from throughout the region to join a growing workforce, enjoying competitive wages and benefits,” Spirer says. In addition, the company works with a variety of state and federal agencies to supplement its workforce recruitment efforts.
Springer Mountain Farms
Springer Mountain Farms started in the mid-1990s, an effort of two families with deep roots in the poultry industry.
“We started talking about new ways to raise chickens. Everything we did was cutting a new trail,” says Gus Arrendale, Springer Mountain Farms president.
In 2001, Springer Mountain Farms was the first poultry company in the world to gain the American Humane Association poultry production certification. The certification requires a farm family to live on the farm where Springer Mountain Farms’ chickens grow.
“Every single Springer Mountain Farms chicken is grown on a family farm,” Arrendale says.
The company estimates 1,000 members of farm families throughout northeast Georgia receive economic benefits from raising chickens according to the humane standards – and the company purchases feed ingredients from more than 200 Georgia farm families.
Springer Mountain directly employs 4,500 workers to process and distribute its chicken. As a result of internal promotions, many of the company’s managers worked in the processing plants during the beginning stages of their employment.
The company sees demand growing for its products. Its chicken is sold nationally, with a focus on Georgia and surrounding states.
“We’re on the shelves at many grocery stores in the region, and we have a particular affinity for the better restaurants in the southeast, too,” says Dale Faunce, marketing manager.