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FEEDSTUFFS IN FOCUS: 'Farmer Focus' drives growth of Shenandoah Valley organic poultry

Corwin Heatwole says his company's focus on farmers has created a new kind of chicken company with a new kind of business model.

During the U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Outlook forum in late February, Feedstuffs policy editor Jacqui Fatka sat down with Corwin Heatwole, founder and CEO of Shenandoah Valley Organic, a relatively new organic poultry producer in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

A sixth-generation poultry farmer, Heatwole sought out a way to revolutionize the profitability and the structure of his own farms. Rather than grow for a larger integrator, he launched Shenandoah Valley Organic in 2012 as a small-scale organic farm—raising just 300 chickens. He then turned to other local producers to add to his operation. 

He says the company's “Farmer Focus” business model emerged from conversations with local farmers about the potential of creating a new kind of company. The innovative contract model allows farmers ownership of their chickens, their feed, and control of their farming operations. 

Heatwole said this ownership concept is very important to give farmers more than increased profitability – it also gives farmers something they are very proud of, including the husbandry and care they’re able to deliver to animals. This allows Shenandoah Valley to further transfer that ownership to treat farmers as true partners and allow them to manage their own risk. 

“This ensures farms are profitable and sustainable for the next generation,” he said. 

In 2014 SVO launched its own processing plant, helping increase organic product offerings to consumers through food and farming partnerships as well as through larger retailers such as Costco.

This was recorded in late February, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In an update at the end of April, Heatwole reported that the company’s people are healthy and orders are strong since it predominantly services the retail sector. 

“We have seen a new wave of organic purchasers as people who like to eat healthy were forced to cook at home and this should sustain well past the pandemic." Heatwole said. "As you can imagine, retail sales have increased and food service has decreased, leaving us in a very blessed position as anyone else should be that services the retail category."

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