How the closure of Glen Allen's Tyson plant is impacting Virginia farmers: 'Took a while to sink in'

Posted at 6:08 PM, Mar 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-15 20:07:17-04

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- It’s an understatement to say that Rocky Run Farm in Dewitt is a family affair. Taylor Lee left his job in 2017 to build the chicken and sweet corn operation.

“I'm the seventh generation to farm,” Lee said. “I was raised up on a farm and to raise my kids on a farm is something that was important to me.”

How the closure of Glen Allen's Tyson plant is impacting Virginia farmers: 'Took a while to sink in'

Nearly $1 million of financing and a year of construction six years ago eventually lead to Monday, when Lee got the news that Tyson Foods was planning to close their Glen Allen processing plant in May. Taylor said 35 to 40% of his annual revenue comes from his Tyson contract.

“You don't think of a company like Tyson just, you know, calling you up one day and saying that's it. So, it took a while to sink in,” Lee said.

A spokesperson for Tyson said the closure was part of a companywide strategy to streamline their operations. The Glen Allen plant is one of two the company plans to close in the coming months.

“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,” Tyson Foods said in a statement to CBS 6.

Lee and other sources told CBS 6 that more than 70 farmers in Central Virginia work directly with the Glen Allen plant to grow flocks. Tips began coming into the newsroom that many face an uneasy future when news of the plant closure first surfaced.

Lee pointed out that much like most agriculture, other industries are connected to the plant as well.

“It's going to affect all of our local farmers, even throughout the state, because Tyson bought a lot of corn and grain products to make feed for these chickens. So that's a big, big void that's gonna have to be filled; a market that that's kind of gone away now,” Lee said. “

Rocky Run Farm’s sweet corn business remains, and Lee said they have a sizable following of locals who purchase it at area farmer’s markets.

Now, Lee is exploring his options for the two 31,500 square feet facilities that accounted for a large portion of his business. It’s an uneasy moment for small operations like Lee’s, which runs by himself with the occasional help of a high school student who stops by after school.

“We're hoping maybe another integrator will come in [eventually], another company will come in and want to grow chickens here,” Lee said. “Maybe doing a co-op deal, where some of us local farmers could get together and produce chicken for ourselves.”

“All of this is just ideas running through everybody's head when something like this happened. It's gonna be a long process to get back to going no matter what happens for a lot of people,” he said.

A message to a Tyson Foods spokesperson about the impact of the plant closure on local farmers has not yet been returned.



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