Staff from the Poultry CRC joined a group of poultry growers and processors, NSW Farmers Association members, local council representatives and federal politicians in Tamworth on October 13 to discuss the future of the poultry industry in the central north of NSW. Although the focus was on poultry meat growers, prominent local egg farmer, Bede Burke, also attended.
The CRC was invited to attend to explain its nationally-based research programs, with a focus on environmental management. This opened the way for discussions on possible on-farm collaborations relating to odour and dust mitigation and spent-litter management.
According to Peter Pulley, from the NSW Poultry Meat Industry Committee, who chaired the meeting, the take-home message is brief and to the point, namely that the poultry industry is an enormous contributor to the local economy, currently employing over 1000 people, but that its future in the region is uncertain.
“In order to survive, the industry needs to expand and grow to at least double its current size,” said Peter. “Unless it’s able to do this, it will go backwards and may eventually cease to exist in the Central North.”
The facts are impressive. The local industry currently holds $150M in capital assets. Annually, it generates at least $107M in economic activity, with $80M staying in the region; $40M of this is paid in wages to people living in the local communities.
According to Guy Hebblewhite, chair of the Central North Poultry Innovation group (CNPI), there are a number of hurdles in the way of the growth of this vital industry. One is public opinion and lack of understanding. Misconceptions about the way chickens are grown, and lack of knowledge about the size of the industry are another two. It is a little known fact that the poultry meat industry is a very low emitter of carbon into the atmosphere. The poultry industry also only uses a small amount of water for the amount of protein produced.
Negative perceptions and incorrect beliefs also play a part. Many people still believe that meat birds are fed hormones, which is simply incorrect. Some people also think that the industry is small, when in fact it is one of the largest private enterprise contributors to the regional economy. Aside from people directly employed by the poultry industry, contract work is also provided by trucking companies, grain growers, gas suppliers, electricity, litter and chemical suppliers, and professional advisors.
Bendigo, in northern Victoria, inspired the formation of CNPI due its success in fostering a healthy local poultry industry. South Australia was also mentioned as a State encouraging the poultry industry’s growth.
The CNPI group has been formed, as a not for profit company, to try to promote similar expansion in central and northern NSW. Its goals are to highlight the positive aspects of the industry and to educate the public on the advantages that expansion of the industry can have for the wider region.