Depending on which version of the U.S. poultry industry you believe, the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia is the birthplace of the country’s modern turkey industry and Rockingham County was its self-proclaimed capital. The closing of the turkey slaughter plant in Hinton, Virginia, in Rockingham County, formerly owned by Wampler Foods, was announced by Pilgrim’s in 2004. A group of turkey growers and outside investors formed Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative Inc. in summer 2004 to take over the plant, purchase poults, produce feed and carry on the legacy of the old Wampler operations.
When this new turkey company was formed, I was told that shares were being sold for $10,000 each, and as someone who had been working in and around the poultry industry for 18 years and had worked for Wampler, the thought of investing intrigued me. Working for poultry companies with sales of hundreds of millions of dollars always made me wonder what it would have been like to get in at the start. I thought about investing, for about five minutes, and then my practical side kicked in. My livelihood didn’t depend on taking the risk, so I didn’t write the check.
I had been a plant manager for WLR Foods; I had toured the Hinton processing plant several times and knew how old and out of date the feed mill was, and I also knew how densely populated the Valley was with poultry and its history of disease issues. I just didn’t think investing in the cooperative was a good bet.
Thankfully, I was wrong.
The Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative just announced plans to invest $62 million over the next three years to build a new processing plant in Hinton and improve its feed mill in Broadway, Virginia, and its grain elevator in Linville, Virginia.
Many of my former colleagues at both Wampler Foods and Rocco Turkeys work for the cooperative, and I congratulate them and the cooperative’s growers for their success. The management, employees and growers of the cooperative were able to find underserved market niches -- turkey raised without antibiotics and organic turkey. This, coupled with operating assets acquired for pennies on the dollar and a lot of hard work and long hours, built a profitable business. I wasn’t willing to take the risk, but they were and they made it work.