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Poultry doing well despite export slump
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Recent fluctuations in the poultry export market don't affect the price farmers get for growing broilers under contract, but they are having an impact on the poultry companies' bottom lines.
Tim Chamblee, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station associate professor of poultry science, said the poultry industry is holding its own this year, although exports of broiler meat were down 21 percent the first quarter of this year compared to 2001.
Nationally, the industry exports about 17 percent of its broiler production. In Mississippi, more than 90 percent of the broilers produced leave the state, with much of this sent overseas.
"Russian put an export ban on U.S. poultry for the first four months of 2002," Chamblee said. "We export dark meat because Americans prefer white meat. With exports down, it has driven dark meat prices down in the United States, although white meat has held fairly steady."
The 12-city average price the processor gets for selling poultry was 58.44 cents a pound in June. Last June, this price was 59.88 cents. Chamblee said prices were good last year so this small price drop has not hurt companies, but feed prices have gone up, cutting into profits.
"Companies are paying a bit more for corn and soybean meal than they were a year ago, yet broiler prices are relatively the same," Chamblee said.
The way the poultry industry is organized, companies supply the chicks and feed, and pay farmers a fixed price to grow out the broilers. Farmers supply the houses, utilities and labor.
"Whether the company is making 10 cents a pound or losing 10 cents a pound, the farmer still gets the same amount of money," Chamblee said. "The price the farmer gets for his chickens when the company takes them to the processing plant is not influenced by market prices."
In addition to export fluctuations, several poultry producing states have been fighting a strain of avian influenza, a fatal disease of poultry for which there is no vaccine. Mississippi has been untouched by this disease and has suffered no significant disease problems all year.
Berry Lott, professor of poultry science with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said heat has not been a problem this summer. Unmanaged heat can kill broilers, and sudden transitions from cool weather to hot are the hardest for the birds to handle.
"We have not had those 100-plus degree days yet," Lott said. "There have been some temperature losses, but these have mostly been caused by malfunctions of equipment."
He also said the industry is expanding in the state with Koch Foods in Morton, formerly B.C. Rogers, building 125 new broiler houses. Once completed, these houses will have the potential of increasing the state's broiler production by 14 million birds a year, or 70 million pounds of chicken.