During a period when too many are cutting back research budgets, it’s encouraging when new funding for research is announced, and this was the case in August this year when Australia’s Poultry Cooperative Research Centre Program (Poultry CRC) revealed that it had won an Aus$28 million (US$24.5 million) grant from the government, allowing the formation of the Poultry CRC 2.

The grant, together with cash and in-kind support from its participants, will give the organization total resources of almost Aus$87 million – enough to secure its future for almost another decade.

So what is the CRC, what does it do and why is it, and its funding, important? It might be easier to answer the last question first.

According to James Kellaway, managing director of the Australian Egg Corporation Limited: “The poultry CRC has dramatically increased the level of collaboration and cooperation among researchers and industry, providing a sound platform for productivity growth leading to industry sustainability. Given the latest population projections for Australia, CRC 2 is a timely investment.”

Australia established the CRC in 1990 as a way of linking universities, governments and industry in order to address major industrial and scientific challenges in a collaborative manner. The program is administered by the Commonwealth Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, and Poultry CRC 1 was established in July 2003.

A substantial part of research of specific relevance to the chicken meat industry carried out in Australia, particularly in areas where companies are not competing against each other, is now coordinated and managed through the Poultry CRC.

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CRC 1, whose projects are now in their closing stages, had four main programs: these were:

  • enhanced quality and productivity using novel approaches to digestive physiology and metabolism of poultry;
  • sustainable poultry health through discovery, development and application of emerging biotechnology;
  • improved management of poultry welfare and the environmental impact of poultry production;
  • education and training.

The programs were designed to help the sector: move towards the sustainable production of chicken meat without reliance on antibiotics; to develop and commercialize new poultry health products and better diagnostic tools; to foster a poultry industry with enhanced bird health and welfare standards; and to encourage the improved education and skills of poultry personnel.

Amongst those projects undertaken through the Poultry CRC has been a study that showed that broilers raised on fibrous litter were generally more uniform in feed consumption.

A laboratory manager at poultry producer Inghams Enterprises undertook the cooperative studies, that looked at the productivity and health of broilers raised on rice hulls, softwood sawdust, pine shavings, re-used shingle batch pine shavings litter, shredded paper, chopped straw and hardwood sawdust.

Lloyd Thompson, the Poultry CRC’s commercial manager comments: “Despite some differences among litter types, most of the fibrous materials tested gave equally beneficial gut development and liver performance results, suggesting a wide range of options for farmers to pursue to best manage litter availability and cost.”

The University of Melbourne has been a partner in the development of a suite of affordable and fast DNA-based tests for diseases.

The PCR-based tests that have been developed offer the benefit of both speed and typing without the need for culturing. Project leader at Melbourne University, Amir Noormohammadi, comments: “The more tests we do, the more understanding we gain, which is good for the entire industry. The tests are still evolving and we’re still learning, but we do love the challenge.”

The project has now turned its attention to a test for the Avian Nephritis virus.

Education

Beyond research the Poultry CRC has an education and training element. For example, two new units are under development to cover the activities that take place in egg grading and packing facilities. Drafts have been sent out to egg industry personnel for consultation.

The development of a Teachers’ Resource Kit is also now almost complete. The kit contains resources that have been developed by the Australian Egg Corporation, the Australian Chicken Meat Federation and others.

In July this year, the main components of the kit were mailed to 37 teachers, with the remaining components to be forwarded at a later date.

The CRC is a major sponsor of the National Association of Agricultural Educators conference, which will be held early next year. At the conference, the Teachers’s Resource Kit will be officially launched and supplied to interested teachers.

The Poultry CRC is also responsible for the online resource “Poultry Hub”, which has been adding to its resources for students and teachers. The development team has been working with students and teachers to teach poultry keeping in the classroom. Resources such as the Anatomy of the Chicken Learning Resource will soon be supported by a series of practical how-to guides designed to help schools. The hub also offers a “Poultypedia”!

Secure future

Now that the Poultry CRC has won new funding its future should be secure for the next seven and a half years.

In response to the grant, Poultry CRC CEO, Professor Mingan Choct, commented: “This a once in a generation opportunity for poultry research in Australia. It will give us the time and resources to capitalize on the solid foundation the current CRC has laid for delivering frontier research, building human capacity and collaborating closely with end users.

Poultry CRC 2 will have three programs covering nine projects. Those programs are: Health and Welfare, Nutrition and Environment, and Safe and Quality Food Production. Each project will require numerous proposals to meet the conditions laid down by the Australian government.

The collaboration facilitated by the CRC can be particularly beneficial in that it encourages partners to work together for longer periods than might otherwise be the case. For example, David Tinworth, director of vaccine manufacturer Bioproperties, a core member of the grouping, notes that the second Poultry CRC is crucial to adequately capitalize on investment to date in the seven vaccines currently being developed.

The Poultry CRC may have won the World’s Poultry Science Association Industry/Organization Award last year, but does bringing academia, producers and suppliers together really work, or are there too many vested interests? Is Mr Tinworth’s view widely shared?

One smaller poultry producer has commented that the benefit for his company is that barriers to accessing research results have been removed by the CRC. A larger producer views the program in a different way.

Margaret MacKenzie, national services manager with Inghams Enterprises says: “I was skeptical about the first CRC, believing it would be just another poultry research organization. But its work has brought significant savings to industry and Inghams wholeheartedly supports the second CRC.”