On “Food Talk with Danielle Nierenberg,” Jim Perdue, the Chairman and Advertising Spokesman of Perdue Farms, talks about learning from generations of farmers with the best practices to inspire change across the company. After Perdue Farms acquired Niman Ranch in 2015, Perdue learned to trust the wisdom carried on by generations of farming families. “If it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it. Too many companies in America buy someone and then try to change them to their culture. Why do that […] They’ve done a great job, the farmers,” says Perdue.
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Niman Ranch farmers are inspiring the US$7 billion poultry company to transition contracted farmers to sustainable practices, such as humane or organic practices, with changes across the value chain. “When there’s a depressed market, and the farmer is struggling, this is when we have the best chance of getting him or her to diversify their practices,” says Perdue. “We’re working with farmers: if you have 1000 acres, why not diversify 100 of it into organic? […] We’re working as hard as we can to convert farmers.”
“We’ve got to put our focus back on the farmer because if we want them to change the way they raise chickens—for example with outdoor access—we’ve got to do it with the farmer. They’re the ones that are there, not us,” explains Perdue.
Bruce and Aaron Williams are among the Niman Ranch farmers using generations of wisdom to inspire Perdue and its farmers to convert to better livestock raising practices. “It’s been our main focus forever. From an early age, we were out there helping Dad and Grandpa, doing stuff with pigs. Aaron did the same thing with me. It’s just woven into our life,” says Bruce.
As a sixth-generation farmer, Aaron believes “it’s more rewarding than it is burdensome to think that my grandpa and his grandpa were on the same land and that provided them their livelihood for their family. And now I get to do that.” Aaron returned to his family’s farm, inspired by the ways his family’s past generations lived and taught. “I wanted to work for myself and be my own boss and see all the work that I do every day be paid back to myself. Being an independent farmer, being a business owner and an entrepreneur: that’s how I was grown up to be,” says Aaron.
“And now I get to do that and start my family, and maybe pass farming on to my grandkids someday […] that brings a lot of pride to what I do every day,” says Aaron.