Labor shortages impacting the poultry supply chain

Poultry processors and distributors share thoughts on coping with labor and truck driver shortages as part of round table discussions.

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(gguy44 | iStock)
(gguy44 | iStock)

Competition for truck drivers and workers in poultry processing plants, shipping docks and warehouses is very stiff, according to attendees at the National Poultry & Food Distributors Association (NPFDA) Fall Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. In a series of roundtable discussions held September 16, 2019, the difficulty of attracting and retaining workers was a hot topic of discussion along with the overall shortage of truck drivers.

All NPFDA meeting attendees participated in the roundtable discussions, and attendees work for poultry processors, distributors, brokers, and vendors to the supply chain. The shortage of truck drivers -- particularly for long-haul routes -- was tied to several factors. The strong overall economy has created a greater demand for goods to be moved by truck, and baby boomer truck drivers are retiring in greater numbers than are young drivers being trained and hitting the road. In addition, changes to marijuana laws in many states are making it harder to find drivers who can pass drug tests.

It was mentioned that insurance companies are reluctant to provide insurance to drivers under the age of 21, and that this leaves recent high school graduates out of the potential truck driving pool. By the time these individuals are in their twenties, they may have already been trained for another career.

The mandated use of electronic driver logs has reduced flexibility in driver hours and will require cooperation between supply chain partners to make sure that drivers and trucks are utilized as efficiently as possible. Some suggestions offered during the panel discussion to adjust to the shortage of drivers and the use of electronic drive logs are:

  • Shippers should consider leasing or purchasing additional refrigerated trailers so they can be dropped at regular customers
  • Receiving warehouses should set aside additional parking space so their suppliers can park on site for mandated off-duty hours.
  • Receiving warehouses should carefully plan truck arrival/unloading times to match anticipated staffing, so trucks aren’t stacked up while waiting to be unloaded.
  • Receiving warehouses with limited parking should be particularly careful scheduling the first trucks to be unloaded for the day.

Processing plant labor shortages

First processing in broiler plants in the U.S. is highly automated. Labor shortages at poultry plants have the greatest impact on deboning operations. Difficulty keeping processing plants fully staffed is causing most poultry processors to take another look at automated deboning systems and looking at other activities in the plant that can be automated.

Ai-Ping Hu, Ph.D., senior research engineer, Georgia Tech Research Institute, will discuss intelligent automation of bird deboning at the Poultry Tech Summit. Hu says that deboning can conceptualized into three parts: characterizing the non-uniform bird product (using 3D image processing), predicting anatomical structure (i.e., the shoulder joint), and obtaining an optimal cutting path (for the robot to execute to extract the most yield from the bird carcass). Results from deboning experiments using a prototype developed to perform bird shoulder cuts are presented.

The Poultry Tech Summit is presented by WATT Global Media in collaboration with the Georgia Tech Research Institute, USPOULTRY, and the University of Georgia with support from the World’s Poultry Science Association. The event will be held November 20-22 at the Georgia Tech Hotel & Conference Center. Registration is now open.

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