Emery P. Dalesio
RALEIGH — Poultry processor House of Raeford Farms Inc. said Thursday that it will close a turkey-slaughtering plant in Hoke County that employs 950 people after years of declining or flat consumption of its frozen turkey products.
House of Raeford spokesman David Witter said the decision was not related to a three-year federal environmental crimes case that ended with sentencing two weeks ago.
“It was absolutely just a business decision,” Witter said. “It had absolutely nothing to do with that matter or anything else.”
A judge placed the company on two years of probation and assessed a $150,000 fine for knowingly committing Clean Water Act violations. Operators of the plant now closing in Raeford discharged untreated wastewater containing turkey blood and internal organs directly into Raeford’s municipal sewage treatment plant, prosecutors said.
The family-owned, Rose Hill-based company will shut down the plant later this year and shift more heavily into chicken products, after fulfilling contracts for frozen turkeys for the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, Witter said. Workers will receive severance packages, priority hiring opportunities at other plants, and job placement help, the company said.
A turkey hatchery in Rose Hill that employs 30 people also will close, with most of those workers offered jobs at other company facilities. About 140 farms near the closing plant will see the end of their contracts to supply turkeys to House of Raeford, but the company said it will ask the facilities whether they want to shift to raising chickens.
A second plant in Raeford that employs 400 and processes lunch meat, ground turkey and chicken, and battered and breaded poultry nuggets will remain open, the company said.
Privately-owned House of Raeford processes chickens and turkeys at plants in North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana. The company’s chicken division includes about 5,300 employees, 2,300 of them in North Carolina.
Chicken represents more than 90 percent of the company’s sales and has grown considerably, while last year’s Midwest drought, high corn prices, and falling turkey prices have hurt profits from turkey, the company said.
“We intend to further expand the chicken business over the next two to three years so that our increased chicken volume will replace the turkey production we are phasing out,” House of Raeford CEO Bob Johnson said.
Emery Dalesio can be reached at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio