Farmers plea for help as Tyson plans to close plant: 'It's killing families in Southside Virginia'

Posted at 12:23 PM, Mar 31, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-01 13:09:26-04

NOTTOWAY COUNTY, Va. -- In less than two months, Tyson Foods will shut down its Glen Allen processing plant.

The impact of that closure is slowly starting to be seen in rural Virginia, as 55 farmers across 13 counties with a combined 278 chicken houses are preparing to go out of business.

Farmer Roger Reynolds’s family has been in the poultry business since 1986. It’s a third generation career.

“I enjoy feeding American people," said Reynolds. "I've done it my whole life. My daughter has been with me since 2014. She runs these four houses."

But that job is about to come to a halt.

"It was a shock," Reynolds described.

On March 13, he got a call from Tyson explaining the Glen Allen processing plant would close in May.

That means his four broiler houses, and $1.5 million investment into the operation will no longer be needed.

Around 160,000 chickens on the property will be sold next week and no more chicks will come to take their place.

Farmer Reynolds2.jpg

"The investment I've got now, it's just sitting here, or it will be," he noted.

Reynolds explained Tyson gave him and other farmers in the area until March 31 to choose their buyout. They could either take one lump sum payment or choose from two other options of having the money dispersed over time.

Reynolds will be paid for the remainder of his four years left on his Tyson contract.

“I know it's big business," Reynolds noted. "But it's killing families in Southside Virginia.”

"It's something that's just being taken away from us, and not knowing kind of what's coming next," explained his youngest daughter, Carmen.

She said she always thought she and her sister would have this chicken farm to help make ends meet.

"Me, as far as a looking for a job in the future, is kind of something that I will have to piggyback off of, as well as this, if this isn't here to be able to support myself and my future," Carmen explained.

Carmen Reynolds.jpg
Carmen Reynolds

Chairman of the Nottoway County Board of Supervisors, Steve Bowen, said the Tyson closure is devastating for his county.

"We can't sit here and keep watching it and not take any type of action," noted Bowen. “I always said, look, I want to leave it better than I found it. I feel like I'm breaking that promise to the next generation. So that's really hard for me."

Bowen, the Nottoway Board of Supervisors and the mayors of Blackstone, Crewe and Burkeville sent a letter to Governor Glenn Youngkin, asking him to do all he can to bring an integrator into the area — a company to replace Tyson and help these poultry farms survive.

“We lost all our tobacco farmers, and then there was no more dairy farmers in Southside Virginia, and now, you're talking about our poultry farmers," said Bowen. "Our strategy is not to fight Tyson. This is a company out of Wall Street, and I get it, and we're not trying to fight them. Our strategy is to bring someone in to help our farmers out.”

Bowen and the board even have a proposal to offer up land for a new plant at the recently renamed Fort Barfoot. The area has been designated for economic development.

"If a process and plant grain meal and a hatchery is here in any of these counties, it will help all of these farms that have been impacted," explained Nottoway Supervisor John Roark.

While these farmers will suffer from the Tyson closure, so will the county’s revenue.

According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, Nottoway exported a little over $50 million worth of farm products. Roughly $40 million of that came from poultry and eggs.

"How do you how do you raise real estate tax on a farming family that has that has gone out of business?" asked Bowen.

Farmer Reynolds.jpg

"The impact is going to be long and deep because of the saw dust, the tractor dealers, the propane companies," explained Reynolds. "I mean, the convenience stores that sold water to the catch crews, the landlords that rented to the catch crews, the mechanics that worked on vehicles. It's gonna be a long time to really absorb this."

Fortunately for Reynolds, he still has an active contract with Tyson for his chicken breeder operation.

The Tyson hatchery and grain mill in Amelia County remain open as of now, but Reynolds said they’re greatly reducing their operations from 160 loads of grain a week to only 24.

"The public's gonna feel the effects also, when they go shopping," he noted.

This rural community that enjoys its seclusion from city life is now hopeful their state leaders in Richmond will help their farms survive.

"Let's put Virginia first," said Reynolds. "Let's save Central Virginia and Southside Virginia.”

CBS 6 reached out to Youngkin to find out his response to the local leaders’ letter.

A spokesperson sent a statement reading, “Matthew Lohr, Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, has been fully engaged with Tyson Foods and poultry producers to mitigate any impending impacts. As Tyson's plant operations continue through May, the administration will continue to coordinate with them and work on long-term solutions for the poultry industry in Virginia."

CBS 6 also reached out to Tyson to find out the future of the hatchery and grain facility. They shared the following statement on Friday evening.

Our feed mill in Crewe, Virginia will continue to operate to service our remaining breeder and pullet farms in the area.

After careful consideration, we made the difficult decision to close our processing, broiler and hatching operations at our Glen Allen, Virginia plant effective May 12, 2023, and shift demand to other Tyson Foods facilities. While the decision was not easy, it reflects our broader strategy to strengthen our poultry business by optimizing operations and utilizing the full available capacity at each plant. As always, our team members remain our top priority. We are working directly with impacted team members to help ensure they have the option to apply for open positions and relocation assistance where applicable to other Tyson Foods facilities. We are also closely coordinating with state and local agencies and officials to provide resources and assistance for those who choose to remain in Glen Allen.

At Tyson Foods, we value our relationships with our independent growers and their support in maintaining the highest quality animal welfare practices and biosecurity measures to protect our animals and their contributions to our business. We’re working hard to support impacted independent contract poultry farmers through this process. Our efforts include following all regulatory requirements, while also providing generous options including a lump sum payment or multiple payments during the remainder of the farmers’ contract, even if they are not raising Tyson Foods’ birds on their farm.

Depend on CBS 6 News and for in-depth coverage of this important local story. Anyone with more information can email to send a tip.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers are Working For You.

Contact the CBS 6 Problem Solvers

📱 Download CBS 6 News App
The app features breaking news alerts, live video, weather radar, traffic incidents, closings and delays and more.