The global poultry industry has advanced from a very simple and fragmented industry in the 1950s to a highly sophisticated, technologically advanced, highly efficient production system in the 21st century. In the course of its advancement, the poultry industry has created countless jobs, enhanced local and national economies, and provided a high quality, safe meat protein source at a nominal cost for a rapidly expanding global human population.
Many factors have contributed to the success of the poultry industry. Among the most important of these factors has been the ability of the poultry industry to apply and adapt the findings of research conducted at universities and federal research institutes. Researchers have provided repeated breakthroughs and advances in design and application of poultry house equipment, poultry husbandry, processing equipment and management, vaccine development and disease control, food safety, environmental management, hatchery equipment and management, and nutrition and feed manufacturing.
Funding decline results in national lab closings
Historically, the funding for research related to poultry science came from many sources, but those sources have been gradually diminishing over the past 25 years. In the U.S., the most significant funding was available from the USDA to perform a variety of types of research to benefit the poultry industry. University researchers could acquire these funds through a competitive grant proposal process. Today, those funds have dwindled dramatically and are available for only narrowly focused areas.
The USDA has a series of research centers, administered as the Agricultural Research Service, which have provided the research for very important advances in the poultry industry. The Agricultural Research Service budget is also in decline, forcing the closure of some facilities, reductions in staffing in others, and a reduction in the funding for research. A recent example is the Avian Disease and Oncology Laboratory in East Lansing, Mich., which has been scheduled for closure. This laboratory has performed a significant portion of the research which has provided the knowledge that has allowed the poultry industry to so effectively control two major poultry diseases, Marek’s disease and avian leukosis. When the laboratory closes, the poultry industry will experience a permanent decline in the national expertise in these areas. Similar facilities in the United Kingdom and Europe have already been closed, also because of budgetary constraints.
Limited vocational opportunities in poultry research
The diminished availability of research funds has had very visible effects on the university poultry research community. University researchers cannot thrive in the academic environment unless they can successfully attract external funding for research. Likewise, departments of poultry science and other centers that perform poultry research cannot effectively justify their existence within a university unless they can partially fund their programs with external research dollars.
As available competitive research funds have dwindled, the viability of poultry research as an academic vocation for young researchers has weakened, and the attractiveness has faded for a university to support a department of poultry science as a research unit. We have seen poultry science departments either closed or merged with animal science departments all over the U.S. in recent years. The surviving six departments of poultry science are typically struggling to maintain productivity because of dramatic reductions in their operating budgets. In many cases, when a faculty member retires, the vacant position is not filled with a poultry researcher. This is causing a gradual contraction of the remaining poultry research centers.
Who will fund poultry research?
Today, poultry researchers have to resort to every option possible for research funds. Very important research is still being performed at our universities, but it is primarily being funded by private companies and private research foundations. Although these sources of funds are limited, they have become the most important sources of funds for applied research directed toward solving poultry industry problems.
Generations of research is one of the foundations upon which our modern industry is built. The funding and physical and human infrastructure needed to perform that research is now only a fraction of its former size. Who will perform the research in the future? How will it be funded? These are important questions for all of us.