The Partnership Between Chicken Farmers & Companies

The current structure of the U.S. chicken industry has gotten quite a bit of attention in recent years. Critics of the industry refer to it as the “tournament system,” claiming that it’s harmful to farmers who are forced to participate, and benefits only the large corporations interested in raising their bottom line.

In reality, this structure is credited with not only saving several farming operations, but helping those operations thrive in what was once a struggling industry.Though the term “tournament” is meant to be a derogatory one, the U.S. chicken industry is indeed a performance-based structure, in which farmers are compensated according to both the quality and quantity of their roosts, as well as how efficiently they are raised.

This structure—based on the most fundamental elements of a pro-business society—is the best way to ensure that chicken farmers are rewarded for producing quality chick- ens in a sustainable way. Farmers who invest in more advanced facilities and implement sound management practices will likely produce higher quality chickens more efficiently. These farmers are rewarded through greater compensation, while consumers are re- warded with a consistent and safe supply of quality chicken.


So, how exactly does this system work?

Consider this:Two professional baseball players are vying for a new contract in the major leauges. Player A has worked hard throughout the off-season, investing in a new hitting coach, daily workouts and countless hours watching game film, resulting in a season hitting .314, with 25 homeruns and 100 runs batted in. Player B coasts through the off-season, is happy with the status quo and bats .269, with 10 homeruns and 60 runs batted in.Which player deserves the better contract?

Just like in the MLB, the farmers who invest the time and money to better their operations are going to be compensated accordingly. Critics argue that all chicken farmers should receive the same base pay, but we don’t necessarily agree. We see
how hard some farmers work to ensure they’re producing the safest, most wholesome chickens, and feel that they should be rewarded for their effor ts. We employ a perfor- mance-based structure in the hope that everyone will be motivated to bring their “A” game.

The current system is beneficial to both the companies and the farmers, who like partnering with a company that can absorb most of the risk. In fact, most companies have waiting lists for farmers wanting to enter a partnership, as well as waiting lists for existing chicken farmers looking to increase capacity by building more houses.

The system is also extremely beneficial to consumers, who are able to rely on a con- sistent, quality product. While the term “tournament” implies that there is only one winner, there are quite literally, hundreds of millions of winners.


Don’t take our word for it…
See what America’s chicken farmers have to say.

Having been poultry producers for the past 24 years we have witnessed the highs and the lows in the farm economy and the poultry industry in particular.The integrated production contract has provided us with a regular source of income while significantly shielding us from the adverse impact of low commodity prices... Our family farm is helping to provide Amer- icans with a safe, affordable and environmentally responsible homegrown supply of whole- some protein. This would not be possible without our contract with a vertically integrated poultry processing company.
– Dan & Janet King, Zenda View Farm,Virginia

The incentive program is a reward and makes my hard work worthwhile.
– Winton Lee Kennedy, Glenville, Georgia

This country and agriculture thrives under freedom and a competitive environment. Many times I have been on the lower side of the pay scale so I don’t think I’m speaking out of line.Without some sort of pay incentive, efficiency will disappear. My day starts at 2:00 a.m. each and every morning. I ask, ‘Is it fair for someone who gets up at 8:00 a.m. to be guaran- teed the same money?
– Jeffrey Goff, McAlpin, Florida

I am a farmer, a businesswoman, and have been a poultry grower for over 20 years. I have been successful in this business by staying ahead of the competition. Is that not how a busi- ness should operate?
– Denise Callaway, Mardela Springs, Maryland

We have three poultry houses and have been in this business for over 20 years.The system we have now rewards growers that work hard and keep their operations current.This is the way any other business operates. What is wrong with free enterprise? We do not want to lose the edge that our hard work and investments give us.
– Beth and Darrell Lewis, Laurel, Delaware

If you care anything about animal welfare, you will not change the system of pay. If I am currently a good producer and if I will only be paid average regardless of how well I perform, then I WILL become an average producer. It is only human nature! What you do not realize is that people will begin to try to save money on heating costs and energy costs and that means not providing a good environment for the chickens to live and grow.You will see chick- ens produced in terrible conditions not fit for humans to walk in.
– Candie Ford, Shady Lake Farm, Florida

The poultry business has raised my family and has given me a good quality of life. The way that we get paid as a poultry grower, to me it seems fair, and gives everyone an equal chance to work hard and do good.
– Herman Mulkay, Fairmont, Georgia

“Without competition in the poultry industry, the overall cost will increase, while the efficiency will inevitably decrease. Imported meat will become cheaper, while American exports suffer, as we become unable to compete on the worldwide market. The current system, in our opinion, is vital to the continued success of the American poultry market.”
– Will Bess and John Leatherman,Wilkesboro, North Carolina

Saying no one can be compensated below the average is like saying no one performs below average – which anyone knows is not true. I take pride in knowing my kids and grandkids and America’s children deserve the best chicken I can produce...
– JoAnn Keith, Danville, Arkansas

I am a poultry farmer. I have been since 1984. If the grower loses some or all of the com- pensation she now gets for superior performance, what is her incentive to work hard, pay attention to her operation, put in the extra time and invest money in new facilities? Here in the South there is a saying, ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’ There are a lot of things broken in our nation today, but this isn’t one of them.
– Eunice Richardson, Havana, Arkansas

You have to be willing to make sacrifices in order to be a good grower. These sacrifices not only affect my wife and me but also our three daughters. It is not a job with regular hours; it is a lifestyle that we have to be willing to make choices that will pay off when our birds sell.
– Sharon and Shawn Brown,Taylorsville, North Carolina

The elimination of competition for growers is un-American.
– David Thevenet, Sumter, South Carolina