Imports signal how hard poultry industry hit

Two shipments of Brazilian corn enter Georgia port

On two occasions over the past two months, shipments of Brazilian corn have been sent to Georgia’s port of Brunswick.

The ships’ arrival — the first two in the port’s history — underscores how the drought has sent corn prices upward and has hurt the north Georgia poultry industry, which relies heavily on corn for feed.

“Pain is the right word,” Tom Hensley, president of Fieldale Farms, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Fieldale is spending an extra $50 million on chicken feed this year. “We now have more days between flocks which means, over the course of a year, we make less money. And the price of beef and chicken is at an all-time high.”

Inventories of corn remain at historically low levels, and continued drought could easily make the situation worse.

Farmers planted 96 million acres of corn this year, the most since 1937. In the spring, the per-bushel price of corn was about $5. Then the rain stopped, crops withered, farmers harvested only 88 million acres and the price rose to $8.50.

Some agribusiness giants have realized it was cheaper to import corn from Brazil than to pay Midwestern prices for feed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture projected imports at a record 1.9 million metric tons, a stunning turnaround for the world’s biggest producer and exporter of corn.

The University of Georgia estimated that higher corn prices cost the chicken processors an extra $430 million this year in feed. Loath to pass along higher prices to consumers, poultry producers trimmed supply. Fieldale Farms, for example, turns 3 million chickens a week into breasts, thighs, wings and nuggets, a 10 percent reduction from last year.