Panel examines current state of poultry industry
SALISBURY, Md. — What are the current issues facing the poultry industry on Delmarva and how do its companies and area universities better work together to address them?
Those were the overarching questions of the second Delmarva Poultry Industry-University Partnership Summit and the lead-in to a panel discussion with select industry representatives.
Held at the Wicomico Civic Center on March 13, the summit aimed to continue the progress made in 2017 when industry reps gathered to explore better ways to communicate and solve problems.
“It was a great meeting in terms of identifying needs and strengths and weaknesses,” said Dr. Nathaniel Tablante, University of Maryland professor and veterinarian. “This year we’d like to keep the ball rolling as we’re in this together.”
Tablante led the discussion with panelists Bruce Stewart-Brown, senior vice president of food safety, quality and live operations for Perdue Farms, Bill Massey, Mountaire Farms’ director of housing and Sarah Harrison Linton, environmental manager at Tyson Foods’ Temperanceville, Va., complex.
Harrison Linton said, specific to the Temperanceville complex, Tyson needs better technology for solids management.
An upgraded wastewater system has the plant producing more solids as regulations have increased restrictions on land application. “We are faced with the prefect storm of more sludge and less land to apply it on,” she said.
She added while the company has investigated alternatives, they don’t yet meet their reliability requirements.
“We hear about a lot of these things but from a Tyson standpoint, if they haven’t been tested and can’t be proven that’s not necessarily something we’re going to jump into right off the bat,” she said.
With the Eastern Shore of Virginia adjusting to new groundwater rules, Harrison Linton said research on its Columbia and Yorktown aquifers is important to better understand the impact of water withdrawals from new poultry operations.
Massey said he’s seen a lot of change and progress in his more than 30 years in the poultry industry, “but to be viable we have to continue that progress. The universities are the perfect avenue to attain that.”
He said the industry, especially the integrators, need to better engage the universities Extension staff in their work in solving problems.
“If we don’t engage to help decide the projects that are being done and then work in those projects and we don’t get the outcome we want or we get no outcome we’re as much to blame as anyone,” he said.
Massey also said a renewed focus on agriculture engineering at the high school and college levels is important.
He said Mountaire has met with area vocational schools to discuss ways to align curriculum with needs of the industry.
“I think it’s been a two-way win,” Massey said. “They get to design a curriculum with meat in it and their students hopefully when they graduate they’ve got opportunity for employment.”
Stewart-Brown said there is shared responsibility in maintaining a productive relationship.
“I think this is a step forward, a meeting like this. But I would call the relationship pretty weak right now,” he said.
Stewart-Brown talked about the importance of leadership development in company associates and the role universities could play in helping them add “microcredentials” — in depth training on specific skills — to their resumes.
“You guys could do that big and really help these folks grow,” he said.
Structuring research internships where projects would carry over from student to student was another of Stewart-Brown suggestions.
Another was to design a program where interns studied problems common throughout the industry and present their findings.
“If you had two student presentations on industry-developed university-supported projects that were presented every year I guarantee you people would be interested in listening to those talks and also to the students present them,” he said.
The industry’s relationship with universities has mainly centered around managing disease but the industry’s need are now more varied and the transition has been challenging, he added.
“It needs to be like 80 percent other stuff now,” he said.
He added the industry and universities should measure there relationship annually to keep it improving.
“Just say it out loud. If it’s bad, it’s bad. It’s a place to start,” he said. “It’s hard to judge but it’s hard to give grades on almost anything. If want the relationship to go forward we should say what it is and then say if we got better or worse.”
Tablante reminded the audience that in years past there were many more annual events that brought people in the industry together.
“Those avenues for partnership disappeared eventually, but I’m not saying let’s put them all back, I’m saying let’s explore other avenues if those avenues or formats were not working and let’s do a better job of strengthening this relationship,” Tablante said.
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