- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Tyson Foods Inc. will lay off about 650 employees at its poultry-processing plant on the Eastern Shore of Maryland as it phases out operations at the facility by the end of next year, the company announced yesterday.
The plant, in Berlin in Worcester County, processes about 1 million chickens a week and includes a hatchery and feed mill. The company said it will help employees find jobs in other Tyson facilities, including Temperanceville, Glen Allen and Harrisonburg, Va.
In addition, Tyson said it will work with the 155 poultry growers who are under contract with the plant to find new job opportunities. Growers who do not immediately relocate will receive a settlement from Tyson, the company said.
The Eastern Shore counties of Worcester, Somerset and Wicomico could lose between $20 million and $25 million if most of the growers do not find a new company to which to sell chickens, said Virgil L. Shockley, Worcester County commissioner and a Tyson grower.
Many area farmers grow chickens to subsidize farming, which has yielded little or no profit the last five years. Drought and high prices have left many farmers looking for additional income.
"The chickens have been paying the bills," said Mr. Shockley, who considers himself a "bigger than average" grower, producing about 660,000 chickens 2.5 million pounds a year. "If I'm not picked up [by] another poultry company, I'm out of farming."
Tyson, the world's largest meat company, also said it has signed a letter of intent to sell its Westover, Md., feed mill to Mountaire Farms Inc. of Selbyville, Del. Tyson said it anticipates Mountaire will pick up the contracts of some of the Berlin growers, but it is not clear how many.
Mountaire President David L. Pogge said his company plans to retain those workers at the Westover feed mill.
In addition, he said, Mountaire probably will hire about half of the growers who serviced the Berlin plant.
"These operations faced ongoing challenges with their product mix and need for capital improvement," said Tyson Vice President Bill Lovette in a statement.
Ed Nicholson, a Tyson spokesman, would not elaborate on the challenges the Berlin facility faced, referring only to Mr. Lovette's written statement.
Tyson, based in Springdale, Ark., is the world's largest processor of beef, chicken and pork, with 120,000 employees and 300 facilities and offices in 29 states and 22 countries. It closed plants in Stilwell, Okla., and Jacksonville, Fla., a year ago.
The company posted a profit of $39 million (11 cents per diluted share) in the third quarter ended Dec. 31, down from a profit of $127 million (36 cents) a year earlier. Diluted shares reflect the value of stock options, warrants and other securities.
Tyson's stock fell 4 cents to $8.89 on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday.

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