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Arkansas state senator requests assistance for poultry farmers impacted by company closure


Arkansas state senator requests assistance for poultry farmers impacted by company closure

Dec 08, 2023 | 7:11 pm ET
By Antoinette Grajeda
Arkansas state senator requests assistance for poultry farmers impacted by company closure
(Stephen Ausmus/Agricultural Research Service, USDA)

The euthanization of thousands of chickens after the sudden closure of a poultry company prompted an Arkansas state senator to request intervention from the governor Friday. 

Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, sent a letter to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressing his concern over Cooks Venture’s closure and “possible euthanization of more than 1 million chickens.”

“This matter significantly affects poultry growers, involves serious animal welfare and disease concern, and creates environmental issues,” King wrote. “The impact of the volume of decaying birds to be disposed of is an economic nightmare, and it should not be the burden of growers.”

In addition to the environmental concerns, Dustin Maybee, a grower in Green Forest, is worried about the loss of income. Maybee said he’ll “probably lose the farm” he bought in June after signing a three-year contract with Cooks Venture. 

Maybee said he received a letter Nov. 20 notifying him that Cooks Venture was experiencing financial difficulty and that if the company wasn’t sold, it would close between Nov. 20 and Nov. 30. 

“If this happens, we are committed to winding down the company responsibly,” Executive Vice President Blake Evans wrote. “All outstanding fees for services already rendered will be paid as part of this process.”

The company didn’t respond to an email Friday requesting comment.

Maybee said he has not been paid and still has about 70,000 chickens that he was told the Arkansas Department of Agriculture will euthanize on Monday. 

Initially, Cooks Venture said it would collect Maybee’s birds and ship them. Last Monday, the company notified Maybee his birds would be killed and he would be responsible for composting or burying the remains.

“They’re telling us that they don’t have no money to feed ‘em, catch ‘em, truck ‘em, process ‘em, anything,” Maybee said.

The thought of “420,000 pounds of rotten bird” on his farm prompted Maybee to make some calls, and he attended a meeting in Green Forest Thursday with King and Patrick Fisk, Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Division Director.

The Madison County Record reported about 50 former Cook Venture growers attended yesterday’s meeting where Fisk said he was responsible for deciding to kill the chickens. While there’s no statute behind the decision, Fisk said he acted in the best interest of the chickens, which faced starvation after the closure, according to the Madison County Record.

“What was disappointing to me out of the meeting, was that Mr. Fisk keeps saying, ‘Well I just kept trying to assist this company,’” King told the Advocate Friday. “Well, that’s not your role. Your role is to assist the people of Arkansas.”  

The Department of Agriculture acknowledged receipt of an email on Friday requesting comment, but did not provide a response.

Maybee said he received an email from Cooks Venture Thursday that it will dispose of the birds. However, he said they still haven’t removed the dead animals from other growers’ farms and some of those growers have started to compost themselves.

“I’ve stayed away from the farms that have, but they say you can smell it for miles,” he said.

Maybee said that between himself and two other growers, more than 200,000 additional birds will be euthanized.

“If you haven’t cleaned any other farms up yet, then how are you going to clean all that up in a day or two?” he said.

King said he’s been part of the chicken growing industry for three decades. King didn’t work for Cooks Venture and said he first learned about the state’s role in the situation when a grower contacted him Monday night.  

“[The growers] don’t have the capabilities or the land or anything to have disposal methods to be able to take care of this,” King said.

In his letter to the governor, King pointed to former Gov. Asa Hutchinson allocating $20 million in 2019 to extinguish a stump dump fire in Bella Vista as precedent for declaring an emergency. 

“We need to provide full compensation to the growers, feed suppliers, and any entity related to helping this situation,” King wrote. “The company is under financial duress, and at this time, the state needs to assume responsibility. It is my hope the state can recoup the cost at a later date.”

The governor’s office did not provide a response Friday.