Arkansas Poultry Industry Represents Untapped Market for Oklahoma Wheat / Potential $110 Million Market

Article excerpt

A potential $110 million market for Oklahoma wheat waits untapped across the Arkansas River in the poultry industry, estim ates Chris Rink, assistant director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission.

However, a boon to the state's economic development could also come from those same poultry processing plants, according to officials at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.

Results of a study due in December could help Oklahoma-grown wheat find a place in the 55-million-bushel-a-year poultry-feed market.

Rink expects the study, under way by Oklahoma State University, to show the state's Hard Red Winter variety of wheat has a feed value higher than that reflected by the 20-year-old tables presently used by growers. That would make feeding Oklahoma wheat more economical than corn or milo, at least four to five months a year when the market cycles down, he said.

It could also help convince poultry plants in Arkansas to move or expand to Oklahoma - as two have recently done and others are rumored to be considering - to further cut costs associated with transporting the already inexpensive feedstock, Rink said.

"We've seen some poultry companies looking for a place to expand," Rink said, "and the natural place for expansion is into Oklahoma."

The companies do not want to expand their Arkansas operations because concentrating too many birds in one location could make an entire plant susceptible to disease, he said.

Oklahoma has already benefited from such moves.

Last July, Fort Smith-based OK Foods expanded its poultry processing operations into Oklahoma with a $7.5 million plant in Heavener.

The plant employs 300 people and a $2 million hatchery planned on the site will employ more, said Grover Phillips, director of the Industry and Community Development office of the state Department of Commerce. Phillips said OK Foods also plans to use a number of contract brooder/operators.

"It will have a substantial impact on the area," Phillips said. The number of spinoff businesses, the multiplier effect, created by the poultry industry "is considerably better than the average industry," he said.

Also in July, Tyson Foods, the largest producer of chickens in the nation, purchased the old Lane Poultry Fryers Hollycreek plant between Broken Bow and Idabel and began a $7.5 million expansion that could raise the number of people employed there by about 250 people to a total of 900.

In addition, an $8 to $9 million feedmill operation is planned that could use Oklahoma wheat if the commission's study proves what Rink expects.

Beyond that, an expansion of the Hudson Foods poultry processing facility in Stilwell expected to double its 680,000 chickens a week capacity is planned, Phillips said. …