Agriculture, Timber Companies Continue Struggle

by Robert Bell  on Monday, May. 23, 2011 12:00 am  

The last few years have been tough ones for many of Arkansas' largest private agricultural businesses, including those treading in poultry, timber and rice.

(Click here for a list of the state's largest private companies in the agriculture, poultry and timber sectors.)

"I would say that the lumber market is probably as bad as it's been in the last five years - worse than last year," said Steve Anthony, president of Anthony Timberlands Inc. of Bearden. "We had a slight uptick last year that was predominately supply driven."

A wet 2009 led to some supply constraints and a slight increase in demand drove prices up in 2010, Anthony said. "But I'd say probably the highest prices of this year so far were on Jan. 1, and ever since the first of the year prices have trended down," he said.

Usually the spring and early summer are the peak season for prices, "and we're seeing price declines even in what has historically been the peak building season," he said.

The state's poultry industry has also faced a tough 2011 so far, pinched between high grain prices and lower consumer demand, said Mark Simmons, chairman of Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs.

"Our demand got hit pretty hard with the overall recession, and particularly mid-scale restaurant demand, where we play a lot and Tyson plays a lot and even George's has dedicated a lot to KFC," Simmons said. "That business has been slow to recover. Fortunately, it is recovering some, but we're not seeing tremendous growth in demand."

2010 was also "a very difficult year for rice producers," said Keith Glover, president and CEO of Producers Rice Mill Inc. of Stuttgart.

"We were hit with one of the hottest summers on record, according to the National Weather Service. That had a pretty devastating impact on our crop last year," he said. "Even though we had a record amount of acres, the heat really zapped the field yield and hurt the quality of the rice."

Arkansas rice farmers planted 1.8 million acres last year, he said. "And now this year, even though rice acres are going to be down, which hopefully would have improved the price of rice during the upcoming year, 2011-12, now we get hit with this historic flood."

About 1 million acres of Arkansas farmland have been underwater, and about 300,000 acres of that had been planted or was intended to be planted with rice, Glover said.

"It seems like the hardships just continue," he said.



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