New facility expected to boost turkey processing
The Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative Inc. expects to be on the technological forefront of food processing when it completes its 80,000-square-foot, turkey processing facility, expanding its existing operations in Rockingham County.
In July the Cooperative announced it would invest almost $62 million during the next three years to construct the facility, which is tentatively scheduled for completion by the fourth quarter of 2016. The project is expected to create six new jobs.
The new facility in Hinton is expected to increase turkey-processing production in Rockingham by more than 44 percent. The cooperative began considering an expansion about four years ago. During the past two years, in fact, the organization, which includes 165 member-growers, has been turning down business because of a lack of capacity. The new facility will allow the cooperative to take advantage of new processing technology.
“We had some limitations with our current processing setups,” says John King II, the cooperative’s general manager. “We only process large tom turkeys [about 41 pounds each] and that makes us unique in the country. Our equipment can’t handle much beyond that.”
Established in 2004, the cooperative is the eighth-largest turkey processor in the U.S. and one of the largest processors of organic and antibiotic-free turkeys. It handles about 7 million turkeys a year at its existing 143,000-square-foot Hinton processing plant, which will connect to the new facility.
Agriculture remains Virginia’s largest industry, with an annual economic impact of $52 billion. “Within that overall industry, poultry is the largest individual sector, representing more than $6 billion in revenue and over 15,000 jobs,” says Todd Haymore, the state’s secretary of agriculture and forestry. “Shenandoah Valley is the leader in that.”
Rockingham County is the largest agricultural producer of in Virginia, with more than $1.5 billion in annual revenue from poultry, dairy, beef, eggs and grain. “Our agricultural roots run deep,” says George Anas, assistant county administrator and director of economic development.
Virginia competed against Pennsylvania for the turkey-processing project. The cooperative has an extensive bird-growing operation in Pennsylvania, but it eventually decided that the Rockingham site made more sense.
State incentives included a $500,000 performance-based grant from the Virginia Investment Partnership as well as a $250,000 grant from the Governor’s Agriculture and Forestry Industries Development Fund, which will be matched by Rockingham County over the life of the project.
The importance of the project is “not just the expansion of the plant but also the ripple effect for the member growers in the region,” says Carrie Chenery, executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership. “It hits a lot of important points for our economy.”