MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The deadly tornadoes that swept through the South last week took an enormous economic toll, especially in Alabama. It had more damaged homes and more destroyed businesses than any other state.

Bradley George of member station WBHM reports that one industry in particular suffered deep losses, poultry farming.

(Soundbite of chicks)

BRADLEY GEORGE: At Clay Scofield's chicken farm, dozens of fluffy, yellow chicks peep away.

(Soundbite of chicks)

GEORGE: This farm is in Blount County, about an hour north of Birmingham. Scofield lost about 500 chickens when a tornado ripped the roof off one of his poultry houses.

Mr. CLAY SCOFIELD (Alabama State Senator; Owner, Clay Scofield Farms): We took 6,000 chickens out of this house and divided it up into the other three. The other three have some roof damage, but certainly not as bad as this one.

GEORGE: It's a surreal sight. The back half of the chicken house is fine, but the front part is destroyed. Feathers and manure are everywhere. Scofield, who's also an Alabama state senator, says some birds also died from stress after the storms. He says his farm will survive. Others, though, may not be so lucky.

State Sen. SCOFIELD: You probably will see some farmers who've had total losses on their houses probably just collect the insurance money and go to the house. And some folks, some of our older farmers, may just retire.

GEORGE: Poultry is big business in Alabama: $5 billion a year. Alabama is the third largest poultry producer in the U.S., and the tornadoes damaged or destroyed at least 700 poultry houses. In all, state officials say three million chickens died.

John McMillan is the state's agriculture commissioner. He says the storms have touched every part of the state's poultry business.

Mr. JOHN McMILLAN (Agriculture Commissioner, Alabama): It starts with the eggs and the chicks and goes all the way through the process, and that's all in the pipeline. And if you disrupt the flow of that pipeline, you've messed up the whole system.

GEORGE: Some grain mills have been without power, which means farmers can't get chicken feed. A few processing plants are closed because of a lack of electricity, so there's no place to take chicken or eggs. McMillan is worried this breakdown in the supply chain could hurt other poultry farmers in the state, even those who didn't suffer any storm damage.

Mr. McMILLAN: If we don't get water and ventilation and feed to these poultry houses that were not affected at all by the storm, we're going to lose them too.

GEORGE: The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already announced several programs to help farmers. Large chicken processors like Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride are also providing some assistance.

Experts don't expect consumers will see a price hike on chicken or eggs. While millions of Alabama chickens were killed by the storms, the state produces more than a billion each year.

Mr. DENNIS MAZE (Farmer): Well, get that wrench out of the truck.

GEORGE: Back in Blount County, farmer Dennis Maze helps his son work on a tractor. Maze says five of his chicken houses were destroyed in last week's tornado.

Mr. MAZE: I just had roof damage on these, took just a short time to get the roofs nailed back down. I'll have to come back and fix them once everything gets back down to a little normalcy.

GEORGE: But it may be a while before Alabama's poultry industry gets back to normal. Officials estimate it might be a year or more. And for a state with 9 percent unemployment and record budget shortfalls, that's a long wait.

For NPR News, I'm Bradley George in Birmingham.

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