Which came first?
The production of chicken, turkey and eggs requires a top-quality diet for the birds, much of which consists of locally-grown corn. This valuable partnership may leave some folks asking: “Which came first, the chicken or the corn?”
The answer probably depends upon who is being asked, but either way, there is a clear value chain connection between Kentucky’s poultry production and Kentucky’s corn crop.
“We consider our relationship with corn farmers of utmost importance. The primary focus of USA Poultry and Egg Export Council (USAPEEC) is to make sure that we get U.S.-grown poultry out into the world. One of the ways that we distinguish ourselves from the rest of the production in the world is with our feed. The value truly starts with what we’re feeding our chickens, turkeys, ducks, and our laying hens to produce our eggs,” said Shelby Watson, with USAPEEC. “Kentucky Corn Growers Association joined USAPEEC as a member in 2004, so we are coming up on 20 years in this really great relationship. They’ve invested a lot with our Trade Policy Task Force.”
The USAPEEC Trade Policy Task Force is a crucial “boots on the ground” tool for making export connections when challenges arise.
“For example, Columbia totally shut down all U.S. imports of poultry because of avian influenza outbreaks. When you really get down to it, it’s a political move, but they are now requiring an audit of our systems before they’ll allow trade to open back up. So, in the next few weeks we’re hosting several groups of Colombian officials who are coming in to look at some different plants to make sure that we’re following the safety standard protocols we have in place,” Watson said. “We wouldn’t be able to do that if we didn’t have these kinds of funds from the Kentucky corn checkoff that are ready to go for us when something like this comes up.”
Exports of poultry obviously benefit poultry markets, but also benefit markets for the feed ingredients those birds have consumed. In Kentucky, one in every four rows of corn goes to feed poultry in the state.
“Consumption of poultry in the U.S. is kind of at a maximum, so the only place for more production to go is outside into the world. We work on creating markets so more corn is grown, for the more chickens to eat it, for more people out in the world who are consuming those poultry products,” Watson said. “Poultry is the most affordable protein and it’s the most versatile. We go into international markets and we teach consumers how to incorporate poultry and eggs into some of their traditional dishes. We’ve actually seen a lot of growth. That’s something that we’re really proud of given the dynamics of the world right now. There is potential for more growth out there in different parts of the world. In Africa, those nations are developing really quickly so we see a lot of potential there and also in Southeast Asia. There’s opportunity for us to go in and create demand and create strong relationships with importers so we can get this protein to those who may not have access to it.”
So, with a world of opportunity for growing poultry markets (and the feed the birds consume), which came first?
“If you ask some other people in the industry, I think they would say the chicken comes first,” Watson said. “But if you ask me, I know where the value comes from, so I’ve got to go with corn.”