The past, present and future of the poultry industry in Arkansas were the focus of an all-day celebration at the University of Arkansas’ Center of Excellence for Poultry Science Tuesday (Oct. 6). The big news from the day was the $1.3 million matching gift from Tyson Foods, Inc. to the U of A System Division of Agriculture and Extension Center in Fayetteville.
Two matching donations, $100,000 each from George’s Inc. and Simmons Foods, Inc., were also announced during Tuesday’s celebration of the Center’s 20th anniversary. All the money raised will go towards modernizing the Division’s poultry research facilities in north Fayetteville, located adjacent to Garland Avenue.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the event’s keynote speaker. He shared how the Center’s 20th anniversary was important to the state and for him personally as his father was a poultry grower and inspector in Gravette.
Arkansas is a major player in the poultry industry, with 5,800 farms in 56 counties that raise chickens. Benton and Washington counties together produce the most poultry in the nation, he said. Hutchinson shared how the poultry industry has continued to play a major role in economic revitalization in various parts of the state, including Northeast Arkansas.
“We must do all we can to grow agriculture in (Arkansas) and poultry is a big part of that,” Hutchinson said.
He also spoke of his recent trip to Cuba and how that country needs two of Arkansas’ biggest agricultural products: rice and poultry. Several changes need to happen first. One, Cuba must begin to engage in credit sales and loosen its travel restrictions, which will improve its economy and boost confidence in their ability to engage in credit sales. Cuba also needs to better understand the importance of public/private partnerships, he said.
The gift from Tyson, Simmons and George is a key example of public/private partnerships, Hutchinson added. The research and other ongoing work at the Center of Excellence for Poultry Science is a major part of the state’s success in the poultry industry. Students have come from all over the state, country and world to study at the University of Arkansas, Hutchinson said.
John Tyson, chairman of Tyson Foods, said the poultry science program “wouldn’t be what it is today without the commitment of the University of Arkansas, the faculty who have spent countless hours introducing new opportunities and challenges for students, and the myriad of folks in the industry and community.”
He also said “the great Arkansas poultry pioneers envisioned a place where students can learn from the best and learn how to be the best, in what is now one of the largest teaching and research facilities on campus.”
Other speakers during the celebration included former U.S. Sen. David Pryor, D-Ark., who is on the Board of Trustees; Marvin Childers, president of the Poultry Federation; Gary Murphy, CEO and president of Simmons; and Charles George, CEO and president of George’s Inc.
The planned usage for the gift money includes:
• $300,000 to renovate the Division’s Pilot Processing Plant by adding stadium seating for educational involvement and a pilot test kitchen for relevant research;
• $200,000 to construct an education center aimed specifically at attracting young students who can learn about Arkansas’ poultry production history and research, as well as community-focused programs that share the research with the public;
• $100,000 for landscaping to improve the outside of the poultry research farm along Meadow Valley Trail;
• $200,000 to construct an anti-biotic free research facility;
• $100,000 to renovate an existing building for genetics research;
• $150,000 to construct a new disease research facility/enteric pathogen testing facility as a broiler/turkey floor pen testing house for challenge models;
• $150,000 to renovate two broiler research houses to increase broiler floor pen trail capabilities; and
• $100,000 to renovate an existing building into a broiler breeder cage facility that allows the agriculture division to exceed welfare standards of broiler breeders and improve research capabilities.