When American Farm Bureau Federation elected Vincent “Zippy” Duvall as its president in January, the nation’s largest grassroots farm and ranch organization gained a leader with personal experience in the poultry industry.

Duvall, from Greene County, Georgia, has been a poultry grower for 30 years. He has four broiler houses on his farm and is a contract grower for Pilgrim’s Pride. He also raises beef cattle on his farm and is a former dairy farmer.

“I don’t know of any [AFBF presidents] that have been involved in poultry,” said Duvall, noting his two predecessors – Bob Stallman and Dean Kleckner -- did not have a direct involvement in the poultry sector. Robert Delano, who served as the president in the 1980s before Kleckner took the reins, was primarily known as a row crop farmer.

In addition to his experience as a poultry grower, Duvall spent the past nine years as the president of Georgia Farm Bureau. Duvall notes that poultry accounts for 50 percent of Georgia’s farmgate income, so the state organization spent a large amount of time looking out for the poultry industry.

Duvall, in a recent interview, shared his views on a wide variety of topics affecting the poultry sector. Related stories on concerning his opinions on antibiotic-free poultry production and group sow housing appear on WATTAgNet.

Avian influenza

Duvall said the biggest topic in the poultry industry within the last two years has been avian influenza. While his home state of Georgia did not have any positive detections of avian flu, it was still on the forefront of the agenda for Georgia Farm Bureau.

“As the Georgia president before I became the American president, we worked hand-in-hand with our department of agriculture and the University of Georgia to make sure we had all the techniques of biosecurity up to speed, and then did a big educational program to our growers to make sure they were ready to go with these new biosecurity practices as we went into the cool part of the season started migrating,” he said.

Since most Georgia poultry flocks are broiler flocks, the spread of avian influenza from migrating birds was not as much of a worry as other potential sources, Duvall said.

“All of our broiler houses are totally confined with solid sides,” he said. “You don’t see a sparrow or anything get in the houses like you use to when we had curtains. It’s very much totally confined and has a lot of barriers there from outside migrating birds. The biggest threat is humans coming in and out, and we’ve had to change some of those techniques.”

But biosecurity isn’t the only avian-influenza-related issue facing the U.S. at the present time. Whether to vaccinate flocks should avian influenza re-emerge is another.

Duvall pointed out that when the virus showed up in Indiana turkey flocks earlier in 2016, the situation was quickly brought under control and there was no real need to vaccinate. However, if a future outbreak reaches the magnitude it did in 2015, that is another story.

AFBF has yet to adopt a policy on avian influenza vaccination, but the leadership of the organization has discussed the issue.

“A vaccination program would be welcomed, but they are scared of the vaccine program because it would maybe prevent early detection, which would prevent early control,” he said. “But everybody knew if it ever hit and it hit at the level that it did in Iowa [in 2015], that we would have to go to a vaccination program to prevent it.”

Another issue is a request to Congress from USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The agency is seeking funding that would enable it to hire more emergency responders to deal with future cases of avian influenza.

Duvall said farmers do need assistance in depopulating, disinfecting and determining when it is safe to repopulate barns that have been affected by avian influenza, but he isn’t sure that more APHIS personnel is the right way to go.

“I’m not sure it would be the best investment,” Duvall said. “The control and the way we handle those crises are better handled on local levels through our local state departments of agriculture. They would need some assistance, but our local state agriculture departments should be in charge of doing it in the way they think it needs to be done, and just rely on the USDA to assist them in getting it done.”

Trade issues

Duvall stresses that trade agreements, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), need to come into fruition as soon as possible to help the poultry industry and other agricultural sectors.

AFBF is visiting elected officials in Washington almost daily urging them to ratify TPP, which was signed by negotiators from the 12 participating nations in February.

“We want them to understand the urgency of making TPP a reality,” Duvall said. “Our economic group here has studied that it brings about $4.4 billion in income back to the farm, and every day that we delay that is a day the farmers are losing out.”

 He also notes that another pending trade-deal, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), could be jeopardized by inaction on TPP.

“European countries are probably watching to see what happens with TPP. We’re concerned that if we don’t ratify TPP, why would the European countries want to waste their time to sit down and even negotiate with us,” he stated.

Renewable Fuel Standard

While many in the poultry industry do not support the Renewable Fuel Standard and increased ethanol production, Duvall said it has its benefits.

The biggest opposition from the poultry sector is that when more corn is used for ethanol production, less is available for use in feed, which can drive up feed costs.

However, Duvall said that even though farmers have different concerns depending on their geographic location and what commodities they produce, the greater good for agriculture and rural America – the basis on which Farm Bureau was founded – must be kept in mind. A whole infrastructure is in place for the ethanol industry, which helps support the rural economy, said Duvall.

“I understand the pain that’s felt there, but I don’t share the opinion,” Duvall said. “Grain prices fluctuate. What determines that is many, many different elements, whether it be the weather, the cost of the dollar or trade. There are numerous things that cause feed costs to be what they are.

“It may be one slice of the pie that causes grain prices to be inflated, but it isn’t the main reason.”