An official of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association said water conservation in the poultry industry has taken on a new importance because of the drought.
Al Yancy, vice president of food safety and production programs for the association, was among those attending a water conservation workshop sponsored by the Georgia Poultry Federation and the University of Georgia.
"Water use has always been important," Yancy said. "It has reached a heightened level of importance because of the drought."
He said that the industry has been actively engaged in reducing water use, but fears serious repercussions if water suppliers begin mandated reductions.
"If water use is restricted to a great degree, it's going to make poultry
processing plant performance very difficult," Yancy said.
The seminar included discussions on water conservation, water reuse and the role of both technology and food safety in water conservation.
Brian Kiepper of the University of Georgia said curtailing water use was part of an overall business strategy.
"The poultry industry determined long ago that the secret to growth in the industry was conserving resources," Kiepper said, adding that great strides have been made in making poultry processing more water efficient.
"We have closed-loop systems that actually recycle and reuse 100 percent of the water and use very little additional water. Millions of gallons are being saved every day across the U.S. because of these systems."
But Kiepper pointed out that saving water comes at a price for processing companies.
"The capital investment is staggering. We used to use economic numbers of trying to get a one-year payback. We're now seeing some paybacks of five or six years down the road to get that money back. But because of the importance, the payback may be many years, but the companies are starting to reach that far to do it."
John Pierson of the Georgia Tech Research Institute said some basic steps also can be taken.
"There are things as simple as water meters to show them exactly how much they are using to technologies that allow them to reuse water," Pierson said. "The challenge is to balance water use with food safety, and a lot has been done to make sure both of those issues are addressed."
The 2007 edition of Georgia Agricultural Facts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed Georgia produced 1.38 billion broilers in 2006 with a farm value of $2.7 billion. The overall poultry industry contributes $13 billion to the state's economy.