With Thanksgiving upon us, I thought it would be interesting to review Georgia’s position in the poultry industry, with the intent of bragging on us.
First, agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry in gross value and number of people employed. Poultry is 52 cents of every agricultural dollar, crops are 40 cents and livestock and dairy make up the remaining 8 cents. Poultry’s annual contribution to the Georgia economy exceeds $18.4 billion dollars.
In 2011, poultry and its allied industries directly employed 51,500 people and indirectly employed 50,100. We grew about 7.4 billion pounds of broilers in 2011. That is equal to 745 pounds of chicken each year for each man, woman and child in Georgia. On a daily basis, Georgia produces 29 million pounds of chicken, 6.3 million table eggs and 5.5 million hatching eggs.
This production is spread across the state; 105 of Georgia’s 159 counties annually produce more than $1 million of poultry. The average Georgia poultry farm produces enough chicken to feed 22,000 people for an entire year.
How big is Georgia’s poultry industry? If Georgia was a separate country (no, this is not a call for secession), it would be the seventh-largest broiler producer in the world behind the United States, China, Brazil, India, Mexico and Russia. Yes, we are a large part of U.S. production. We produce just shy of 1.4 billion birds annually, while Arkansas and Alabama are tied for second with a little more than 1 billion birds produced apiece.
Americans eat more than 80 pounds of chicken per year and consume 17 pounds of turkey. We consume about 56 pounds of beef, 47 pounds of pork and 16 pounds of fish per capita per year. This makes chicken America’s favorite meat. The 81.3 pounds of chicken we eat annually far outpaces the world consumption of 27.8 pounds per capita. Americans are well-fed.
All this success has happened because of research and innovation that dramatically has improved production efficiencies. In 1925, it took a poultry producer 16 weeks to produce a 2 ½-pound bird feeding 16 pounds of feed, and he averaged a mortality rate of 18 percent of his flock in the process. Today, a poultry farmer produces a 6-pound bird in seven weeks on 12 pounds of feed with a mortality loss of only 4 percent. Now that is progress!
Now what about turkeys? Georgia’s wild-turkey population is growing, and that is a very good thing. When it comes to U.S. commercial turkey production, Minnesota holds the lead with 1.2 billion pounds of birds produced in 2010. The next three top producers are Indiana, Arkansas and California. Georgia is not even on the radar; we should not even try to compete. It seems to me that Minnesota, California and Arkansas are the top producers of turkeys, and we should leave that function to the pros.
Don Gardner is the University of Georgia extension agent for Glynn County serving South Bryan.