ALBERTVILLE, Ala. (WHNT)-- 2014 has not been a good year for the poultry industry in North Alabama and it could be weeks before things start to improve.
More snow and cold is only adding insult to injury for the dozens of North Alabama poultry farmers who have already been hit hard by a propane shortage, now they are having a hard time keeping the few chickens they do have alive.
Thursday poultry farmer Jonathan Buttram stood next to rows of empty chicken houses. Buttram is President of the Alabama Contract Poultry Growers Association and says it may be several more weeks before he will even be able to get chickens back on his farm due to the weather and lack of available propane.
"It has really been rough, we have not been able to propane since early January and this is just devastating," Buttram says.
In DeKalb County emergency management officials say the propane shortage is hitting the entire county hard.
“We were more affected because we have more farmers relying on propane, and a lot of areas have natural gas but unfortunately we’re so rural it will take years before natural gas will ever get to those areas,” DeKalb County Emergency Management Director Anthony Clifton says.
Clifton says many business in DeKalb County rely on propane for their livelihood, and most of those are poultry farmers. With the severe winter weather the Tennessee Valley has been hit with propane is essential in keeping those chickens alive.
Clifton says because the shortage is so widespread, it could eventually hurt a lot more people down the road than it is right now. “A lot of folks say ‘well it’s just a chicken grower issue’. It’s not. It’s going to have an affect right down the food chain. In other words we’re going to see an increase in prices sooner or later. It’s going to affect every consumer out there.”
Clifton says right now county agencies are working with the companies the poultry farmers grow for to determine those farmers who are most critical, and work to get enough propane so they can go from day-to-day business.
Currently the county is stable, but Clifton says the long hours of working to keep it that way won’t end soon. “This is not something that’s going to end until warm weather, to be honest,” Clifton says.
Propane Shortage Hits The Entire Community
DeKalb County Schools are also affected by the propane shortage. Earlier last week the school board received a letter from UPG Gas informing them they would not be getting gas from that company for at least two weeks. The EMA says they are working to ensure the schools that use gas within the system have enough to keep kids in class during the shortage.
Marshall County Economic Development President Matt Arnold told WHNT News 19 earlier this month the gas shortage that is affecting the poultry farmers in DeKalb County will also directly affect the economy in other counties, including Marshall.