The state has halted production of The Georgia Poultry Market News, a weekly bulletin that affected the price of chicken in supermarkets and restaurants across the country. The state scrapped the program after many of the state’s top chicken producers balked at verifying the prices they quote to the state. Photo credit - Mia Yakel.

Georgia ends influential chicken-pricing index after complaints

For the first time in more than 40 years, Georgia is not producing a weekly bulletin that helped set chicken prices across the country.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported in November that the state Department of Agriculture was going to start asking chicken producers to sign legal affidavits certifying the prices they quote to state officials as part of the “Georgia Dock.”

But many of the top chicken producers balked at verifying prices, and now the state has scrapped the program with a vow to come back next year with a better plan.

“Due to a lack of submissions of the new requirements, The Georgia Poultry Market News has been suspended indefinitely,” Department of Agriculture spokeswoman Julie McPeake said.

The Dock was the state’s weekly estimate of chicken prices and, until recently, was influential in setting market prices across the country. Federal officials and others began noticing Georgia’s index had been pricing chickens significantly higher than other measures.

The weekly bulletin affected the price of chicken in supermarkets and restaurants across the country. As the nation’s largest producer of broiler chickens, also known as whole fryer chickens, the impact of Georgia’s bulletin on poultry sales could amount to billions of dollars a week.

Every week, a Department of Agriculture employee called the state’s top chicken producers and asked what price each company was getting for whole fryers. The companies were not required to provide evidence of the price they provided. The data were then entered into a formula that discounted any quote that was demonstrably higher or lower than the rest.

Beginning in summer 2015, Georgia’s price index began to diverge from others also used to price chicken. The U.S. Department of Agriculture this summer stopped quoting the Georgia Dock in its weekly report of commodity prices after Georgia was reporting prices as much as 60 percent higher than other indexes.

That’s a difference between, for example, $1.13 per pound and 70 cents per pound. That may not seem like much, but when you consider that Georgia produces an average of 29.3 million pounds of chicken every day, the difference could mean billions of dollars a week.

McPeake said state officials are preparing a new system of chicken pricing that will debut in 2017.

“To assure that the industry maintains a reliable pricing tool, the Georgia Department of Agriculture anticipates the introduction of the Georgia Premium Poultry Price Index the week of Jan. 4, 2017,” she said. “This will include a posting of a summary of the new index on the website, followed by a webinar for all interested parties. Official reporting for this index is expected to begin Feb. 1, 2017.”