Most large private agricultural enterprises in Arkansas posted double-digit growth last year, and the chiefs of at least two of those companies expressed cautious optimism that the worst of the recession is behind them.
The biggest company on the poultry/agricultural/timber list is poultry producer Mountaire Corp. of Little Rock, which also happens to be No. 2 on the overall list of 75 largest private companies. Mountaire, which is marking its 100th anniversary this year, reported an 11.3 percent increase in revenue in 2013, to $2.03 billion.
Although Mountaire is mighty, its executives are also shy, and the company declined to respond to requests for comment.
But the heads of the state’s two largest timber products companies sounded notes of cheer not heard in that sector for at least five years.
Steve Anthony, president of Anthony Timberlands Inc. of Bearden, said the 24.3 increase in revenue last year — to $202 million — was “almost exclusively due to the fact that we added a second shift at our flagship mill in Bearden.”
Product prices improved somewhat, he added, but the biggest driver in the improved revenue figure was increased volume. Anthony Timberlands also bought a flooring mill in Magnolia, Partee Flooring, in October, but the purchase was too late in the year to have much of an effect.
Asked about the better numbers, Anthony said, “I hate to even think back about how bad it was. It was so bad. But it’s good now.”
Aubra Anthony, president and CEO of Anthony Forest Products Co. of El Dorado, agreed business was looking up.
“Yes, that is true, thank goodness,” he said. “It’s about time, after six years of what was a housing depression.” However, Aubra Anthony noted, housing starts, which drive the demand for timber products, remain below peak levels, and housing is still volatile.
Anthony Forest Products reported revenue rose 16.2 percent in 2013, to $104.9 million.
Have we turned the corner?
“I like to joke that we have turned a curve because it’s been so slow in happening there was no corner,” he said. But, for now, he sees the upward trend continuing.
At the end of April, the end of Anthony Forest Products’ 2014 fiscal year, the company’s preliminary numbers show revenue of a little over $123 million, or a 20 percent increase in sales.
The other agricultural companies reporting double-digit growth were Riceland Foods, 13.4 percent; Producers Rice Mill, 18.8 percent; and E. Ritter & Co., 12.9 percent.
Poultry company Simmons Foods also saw revenue increase in 2013, by 4 percent. George’s Inc. reported 2013 revenue of $900 million, the same as the estimated figure for 2012.