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“Student recruitment and research is the poultry industry’s lifeline into the future.” – John Starkey, president, U.S. Poultry & Egg Association
on September 29, 2014
POULTRY INDUSTRY RESEARCH & RECRUITMENT

USPOULTRY doubles funding for industry research and recruitment

U.S. Poultry & Egg Association President John Starkey talks with WATT PoultryUSA about programs that fund research and attract young talent to the poultry industry.

WATT PoultryUSA:  What has been the progress of the capital campaign so far?

Starkey:  We have had tremendous industry support and enthusiasm for the capital campaign. Our initial goal was to double the size of the corpus or the Foundation’s assets. We wanted to raise about $5 million. As of now it appears that when the campaign is completed this fall we will have raised $10 million. And while, as you would expect, the companies have led the way, we’ve also had great support from individuals who have been successful in our industry and wanted to invest in the continued success of our industry.

Our long-term goal is to grow the corpus to $20 million through careful management. At that level we can spin off $1 million a year for student recruiting and research forever without touching the corpus, having to worry about what the price of corn is, or having to worry about the possibility of having a smaller trade show in a particular year. We can put back into the industry $1 million a year in these two areas. 

WATT PoultryUSA:  Why is the funding important? Who benefits and how?

Starkey:  In the long run, the industry benefits. The charitable contributions help us recruit the people who are going to be leading industry companies in the future. It also funds research that keeps the industry competitive in a global marketplace. The direct beneficiaries are the student recruitment programs and the research programs.

Student recruitment grants go to 20-plus universities, coast to coast, that connect students to our industry. That’s not just in poultry science and animal science majors but across an array of disciplines needed in the industry.

USPOULTRY has funded $25 million in research at universities across the country in the last 50 years, with the Foundation as a participant in the last 15 years.

WATT PoultryUSA:  What is the scope of the Foundation-funded research?

Starkey:  Research funding is about half and half from USPOULTRY and the Foundation currently. Total funding for research between the two organizations will be $850,000 [in 2014].

WATT PoultryUSA:  What are some examples of Foundation-funded research that have benefited poultry and egg production?

Starkey:  The research is applied research to address needs of the poultry industry. In the period 2003 to 2009, there were a dozen projects on adding phytase to feed, studying everything from how this is to be done in broiler breeder feed to actual reductions in phosphorus in manure as a result of using phytase. In the last two years, we have funded $100,000 of research into Blackhead disease (histomoniasis), and as far as we know that is the only active research into the disease. Blackhead continues to be a disease challenge in the turkey industry. The Foundation also contributed to the funding of the recent large study of egg laying chicken density at Michigan State University.

WATT PoultryUSA:  USPOULTRY also conducts something called Board Research Initiatives. Please explain that program.

Starkey:  USPOULTRY Board Research Initiatives [BRIs] were begun a year ago and complement the existing research program. BRIs concentrate on immediate priorities identified by USPOULTRY’s and the Foundation’s board of directors. The board solicits bids for research to attack a problem at a higher funding level of $125,000 per project. A normal project might be closer to $40,000 to $50,000.

The first two BRIs adopted [in 2013] were on systemic Salmonella infection in poultry and the impact on ground poultry product. The second BRI was an animal wellbeing project focused on thermal comfort of birds during transport. Those are issues that the board thought needed focused attention.

The ability to fund those BRIs is directly related to the success that we had with the capital campaign.

WATT PoultryUSA:  There has been a decline over the years in the number of ag scientists and the government funding of poultry science and technology research. To what degree is the Foundation’s investment in research making up for that?

Starkey:  Those are separate issues, actually. The government’s funding and investment in research by us as a society is on more basic issues. For example, USPOULTRY would not fund a project on the genomic makeup of poultry. That is too basic and too long term for us and involves too large a funding allocation, and is beyond our resources. Our focus is going to be on immediate answers to immediate problems. The continuing decrease of public support of ag research, however, is a problem that we believe needs to be addressed. 

WATT PoultryUSA:  Does the research funded by the Foundation address issues of sustainability as well as efficiency in production?

Starkey:  Certainly, these are focuses of our research program. And where there are gains in efficiency, there are also gains in sustainability. Close to 30 research projects in recent years have been connected to sustainability. For example, there have been six projects totaling $300,000 on ammonia emissions from poultry housing which looked at ways to reduce and control levels of ammonia emissions. There have been 20 projects totaling $700,000 looking at advances and alternatives and improvements in litter management and handling.

WATT PoultryUSA:  At the government level, animal-related research lags plant-related research. What can the industry do to help bring about an increase in the level of government funding for animal food production research?

Starkey:  USPOULTRY is funding, along with other animal ag trade organizations and companies, a National Academy of Sciences [NAS] study which looks at funding mechanisms for animal ag research. The premise is that animal science is woefully underfunded, particularly as compared to plant-related research. That NAS study will make specific recommendations to Congress on how to address the situation.

WATT PoultryUSA:  Poultry’s non-sexy image has limited the recruitment of some talented young people into the poultry and egg industry. What is the Foundation doing about that?

Starkey:  The Foundation is doing a number of things to reach students who have an interest in the poultry industry. In addition to the student recruitment grants, we help fund poultry summer seminars that bring high school kids onto college campuses at animal science or poultry science departments. We support 4-H programs and its National Poultry Judging Contests there. The National FFA Career Development Events and poultry judging are supported by USPOULTRY, with Tyson Foods and Newly-wed Foods. We also help fund industry tours for college students who are taking poultry science classes as an elective. USPOULTRY also supports the National Collegiate Poultry Judging Contest which exposes kids to our industry.

WATT PoultryUSA:  Can you give some specific results of the Foundation’s funding in recruitment of young talent for the industry?

Starkey:  About half of our student recruitment funding goes to the six poultry science schools. So this will be funding at a level of about $150,000 [in 2014] to help these schools reach out to students. In 2001, there were 76 graduates from those six poultry science schools. In 2013, there were 125 graduates from those six schools. And if you were to ask any of those poultry science department heads they would say that our funding has had an impact. There has been a lot of hard work on their part to build their enrollment. It has been their work that has turned the situation around and almost doubled the number of poultry science graduates. But USPOULTRY Foundation has been a source of recruitment resources in a time when they have otherwise had declining funds. We have been a critical partner with them in increasing the number of recruits and ultimately the number of graduates available to come into our industry.       

WATT PoultryUSA:  Some observers worry that without increased funding for research, and the recruitment of talented people, the U.S. poultry industry could lose its competitive edge globally. How serious is this challenge, and what can the industry do about it?

Starkey:  I would agree with those observers in those concerns. Particularly, looking at the industries the U.S. is competing with around the word, including Brazil and China, who are investing very substantially in ag research at a time when we as a society here are investing less and less. There is a clear track record that shows the tremendous return on investment that ag research has provided over the years.

USPOULTRY is not a lobbying group, so our role is to provide support and information to our sister trade organizations who lobby, and support efforts like funding the NAS study so that data and information is available to be considered by Congress so the situation might be turned around.

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