Tyson Foods workers continue tornado cleanup at Wilkes Farm, an eight chicken house operation that was leveled in Noxapater, Miss. / Rogelio V. Solis. AP
LOUISVILLE, Miss. -- A tornado took in a matter of minutes not only 22,000 birds and thousands of dollars in farming equipment from Brenda Goodin on April 28 but much of the love and labor her family has put into the Winston County farm that's operated for decades.
Nothing prepared Goodin for the devastation. Her mother, Marie Myers, said she never could recall even a strong breeze on the Indian Springs farm in all the years before last month's storms.
Goodin and other poultry growers are looking for help and a way forward after the storms claimed more than 1 million birds statewide, according to the Mississippi Board of Animal Health. The state Poultry Association says 18 poultry farms and 78 chicken houses were destroyed or heavily damaged.
"I've lost my livelihood," says Tim Hobby, a Louisville poultry grower. "It's stopped my operation. I lost 10 chicken houses, farming equipment."
He estimates he lost about one quarter of his 234,000 chickens. The rest have been relocated to other poultry farms in the state, never to return, as switching farms can significantly disrupt production cycles.
Poultry, from production facilities operated by industry heavyweights like Tyson Foods and Sanderson Farms to farms like Hobby's that dot the state's rural landscape, is a billion-dollar industry in Mississippi.
As devastating as the storms were to poultry growers and the companies they supply, the lost birds likely won't have a significant long-term impact, given that some 800 million chickens are processed in the state per year, Poultry Association President Mark Leggett says. More problematic will be operations like those operated by Goodin and Hobby being restored to normal operating conditions.
Hobby says he has $3 million in insured losses. Goodin says most of her poultry houses and equipment are insured, but not all. Some of that equipment, she said, was passed down through the family from her grandparents.
Groups like the Farm Service Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration are visiting the hardest-hit areas in Mississippi to let growers know about loans and other programs that can help them rebuild their ventures.
"We still don't have a lot of answers, still a lot of questions," Hobby said.
Poultry producers are feeling the effects, too. Tyson Foods spokesman Gary Mickelson says eight Mississippi farms that supply chickens to the company were destroyed or heavily damaged.
The million dead birds likely won't affect supply enough to raise chicken prices, since it's a fairly small percentage of the state's processed-chicken crop, says Tom Tabler, a poultry specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.
It could take years for Hobby and Goodin to restart what it took them years to build before one day's severe weather took it away. But both say the fact their families and friends survived provides perspective and hope.
"We're going to come back," Goodin said.
Hobby added: "God left us here another day to pick up and rebuild. I'm going forward."
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Read the original story: Miss. poultry industry left reeling by tornado