Arkansas Agriculture Interests Strengthen Revenues

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, May. 20, 2013 12:00 am  

About half of the U.S.’s rice production comes from Arkansas. Most of the time, barring fluctuations, Riceland is Stuttgart’s single largest employer. (Photo by Emery Way)

The category of private companies that could be categorized as “growing things” — Arkansas’ hugely important poultry, agriculture and timber industries — reported stronger revenue in 2012 for the most part: Five of the seven enterprises experienced increases.

Mountaire Corp., the poultry producer based in Little Rock, saw an increase of 31.4 percent last year, to $1.8 billion compared with $1.4 billion in 2011. That showing placed the company at No. 2 on Arkansas Business’ list of 75 largest private companies.

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Alan Duncan, one of Mountaire’s 37 Arkansas employees, was succinct when asked the reason for the improved showing: “We had some expansion in production and rest is due to food price inflation,” he said in an email.

Recent news reports confirm the company’s expansion plans. CapeGazette.com in Delaware reported last month that Mountaire had started an $8.5 million hatchery project in Millsboro, Del. And FayObserver.com, the website of the Fayetteville Observer in North Carolina, reported in March that Mountaire planned to expand its poultry processing plant in Lumber Bridge, spending $5 million and adding 90 jobs.

The other poultry companies on the list — Simmons Foods Inc. of Siloam Springs and George’s Inc. of Springdale — also posted increases in revenue in 2012. George’s reported revenue rising by 12.5 percent to $900 million compared with $800 million in 2011.

The record was mixed, however, for the two rice producers on the list: Riceland Foods Inc. and Producers Rice Mill Inc., both of Stuttgart. Riceland’s revenue grew 4.6 percent to almost $1.2 billion in 2012, while Producers’ revenue fell 4.3 percent to $478.6 million.

The rice industry in the state had a roller-coaster year in 2012. Despite a brutal drought, Arkansas rice farmers harvested a record crop, an estimated 7,340 pounds per acre on 1.28 million acres. But in September, Consumer Reports said that it had found “worrisome” levels of inorganic arsenic, a cancer-causing agent, in rice and a number of rice products consumed widely in the U.S. and called for the federal government to set limits on arsenic in rice. The USA Rice Federation noted that arsenic is a “naturally occurring element” that has “always been in the food supply.”

The remaining two private companies on the list are wood products companies linked by kinship and a long history: Anthony Timberlands Inc. of Bearden and Anthony Forest Products Co. of El Dorado.

ATI, No. 49 on the list, reported better revenue in 2012 (see ATI Ramps Up Shifts as Housing Improves). But Anthony Forest Products, No. 73 on the list, experienced a 5.4 percent decline. Both companies have been hit hard by the collapse of the U.S. housing market, though ATI sees business recovering.

 

 

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