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Poultry industry faces drought challenge

POSTED: October 29, 2007 5:03 a.m.

Top executives of the Georgia Poultry Federation met privately Wednesday with representatives of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to discuss with the city of Gainesville the possible impact of a 10 percent reduction in water use announced Tuesday by Gov. Sonny Perdue.

With three poultry processing plants, Hall County is the largest primary poultry processing center in the state, and a cutback in the availability of water presents a significant challenge to the industry.

Mike Giles, executive vice president of the federation, the trade association for the poultry industry, said water conservation has been a top priority for the industry for 20 years.

He said unlike many water intensive industries, the Hall County plants return more pre-treated water to the wastewater system than they take from the Gainesville water system. This is due to the use of well water to supplement the public water.

"Even without the well water, the amount of water returned to the system would be over 95 percent," Giles said.

In poultry processing, water is used for a number of functions, including conditioning and cleaning the chickens, adding and removing heat from the product in process, cleaning plant surfaces and removing waste materials.

An official with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Craig Wyvill, said the typical poultry processing operation uses about five gallons of fresh water per bird. Some of the water used in processing is filtered, disinfected and reused in the plant. The USDA began allowing reuse of water in 1999.

Giles and the federation’s president, Abit Massey, said the conversations were held to brief state and local officials as to how the industry operates and the implications of further restrictions.

Perdue, through the EPD, ordered all holders of water withdrawal permits to reduce their consumption by 10 percent, based on their usage in December 2006 through March 2007.

The 61 counties in the order represent 73.6 percent of the state’s broiler production, according to the University of Georgia’s 2006 Farmgate Value Report.

Poultry production is a $15.1 billion business in the state and is the largest segment of agriculture and agribusiness.



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