Eradication of disease, increased exports and improved breeds are challenges that have determined the growth of the poultry industry.
Mike Giles, president of the Georgia Poultry Federation, outlined these historic challenges in an address Tuesday at the Hall County Farm-City Breakfast. The annual breakfast is sponsored by the Hall County Cooperative Extension and the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.
If the industry had not taken advantage of the challenges presented, “we wouldn’t have the industry we have today,” Giles said.
In the 1920s and 30s, pullorum disease threatened the survival of the poultry industry.
“A national effort was put in place to eradicate” this disease, Giles said, and resulted in the development of the National Poultry Improvement Plan, as well as the Georgia Poultry Improvement Association.
In 1976 Georgia was declared free of the disease and “because our flocks are pullorum-free, they are able to be exported all over the world,” Giles said.
In the 1990s, more poultry products such as chicken were available commercially in grocery stores than from backyard flocks or small producers.
“This was really the tipping point for the commercial industry when product began being made available to consumers,” Giles noted.
However, A&P Stores told the industry’s breeders that the chicken being grown was not suitable to consumers; it needed more meat.
To solve this challenge, a “Chicken of Tomorrow” contest was held with breeder companies competing to produce a more meaty chicken.
“Since that time breeder companies have been matching the best males and the best females together and our breeds have improved today to a very efficient production system,” Giles said.
Still another challenge facing the growth of the poultry industry was the amount of chicken being exported.
“What was limiting our potential for growth at the time was exports … we recognized at the time that if we wanted to grow we had to grow exports,” Giles said.
In the 1990s, the U.S. industry exported about 6 percent of all chicken produced in the U.S. Today exports are about 20 percent of all chicken produced.
Giles noted that markets have changed over the years. Russia and China were once top markets, but the industry has diversified and Mexico is now the No. 1 U.S. export market.
Giles added, “Countries like Cuba, that didn’t even exist as an export market in the 1990s, is now a top-10 export market for us.”
For the future, Giles said he is “very optimistic about agriculture and food processing in general for the next 30 to 40 years.”
He pointed out that the world’s population today is around 7.3 billion and is expected to grow closer to 10 billion by 2050.
During this time, it is expected that about 100 percent more food will be needed to feed the increased population; and that food will come mostly from land that is already in production.
“Only a small percentage of land in the world has air, sunlight and water needed,” Giles said, adding that “it will be a challenge going forward” but “we’ve got all the elements in place to produce food.”
“I believe Georgia poultry specifically and the rest of the United States is going to be a big part of producing the food needed to double our food supply,” he said.