Keith Smith is the grandson of the late J. Keith Smith, founder in 1948 of the Keith Smith Co., the largest independent producer and provider of broiler hatching eggs in the nation. Smith joined the company in 2009. His knowledge and experience in Latin America helped the company create a full-service export department. The company supplies quality hatching chicks from Canada to Costa Rica supported by a staff of 136. Keith Smith Co.’s network of contract growers operates 165 houses spread across 70 farms in a seven-county footprint of Garland, Hot Spring, Clark, Pike, Howard, Montgomery and Polk counties. J. Keith Smith was inducted into the Arkansas Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2014.
Please briefly explain what it is your company does.
Our company is the “chick” in chicken. We produce fertile hatching eggs and chicks that help companies from Canada to Costa Rica provide nutritious, safe, affordable (and tasty) chicken. We are proud to be a part of the Arkansas poultry industry, which directly employs more than 157,000 people across our state.
The price of eggs for consumers has famously been inflated in the past year or so. Is that true for hatching eggs as well?
Production costs for animal agriculture have gone up during the past two years. Inputs such as grain, transportation, labor and construction costs are reflected in grocery store prices. Table egg production costs have gone up, but the major factor in price during the last 12 months has been supply (due to avian influenza) and the time it takes for longstanding supply chains to reorient themselves when local production is lost. Many of these production areas for table eggs are in the Midwest, where avian influenza was more prevalent. Broiler breeders (that produce hatching eggs) were relatively unaffected in proportion to other avian species.
How have you kept your chickens safe from avian flu?
Biosecurity and a lot of teamwork. We work with stakeholders from the farm level to state and federal agencies to keep our birds safe, healthy and productive. It’s a big job. We are playing our part with other companies in our area to keep our industry safe.
What advantages do you have by being an independent producer?
We are a family-owned company with amazing team members and a strong external board of directors; putting our people and values first is a family recipe we’ve followed for 75 years now.
What is your biggest challenge these days and how do you deal with it?
Like other companies, we are trying to predict and forecast changing economic conditions; we’ve found that focusing on continual improvement works well in all economic environments.
What was your biggest career mistake and what did you learn from it?
Attempting to be present in three different places at once; I learned that one of the best ways to show appreciation and respect is to be fully present in mind, body and spirit. This applies to our interactions with the people we do life with, those we are blessed to work with and our spiritual walk.