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Poultry retains top ag spot in the state
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Good prices this year combined with a strong national appetite for chicken mean Mississippi's No. 1 agricultural commodity grew nearly 15 percent in value since 2002.
Poultry retained its top spot in Mississippi agriculture with an estimated 2003 value of $1.6 billion, according to agricultural economists with Mississippi State University. Eggs saw the biggest increase, up 25 percent from the previous year to $205 million.
Tim Chamblee, management researcher with the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station at MSU, said the industry did well because prices improved and stayed up. Consumers kept up consumption even after the typical post-Labor Day dip.
"Several factors caused the price to improve," Chamblee said. "We decreased the over-supply of chicken slightly, and the rise in beef prices made more people look at chicken and pork. Additionally, a lot of problems in the export market were straightened out as we strengthened exports and recovered the Russian market."
Growers saw very few production problems in 2003. Ventilation systems on houses minimized heat problems and the year brought no significant disease problems. Chamblee said avian influenza has not surfaced in Mississippi. Growers vaccinated birds early in the year for the LT virus and suffered very little decreases in production from it.
The best news for the year was the increase in price. By December, the price for small, whole birds was 58 cents a pound, up from 43 cents a pound in 2002. Larger birds brought in 72 cents a pound in 2003, compared to 58 cents a pound in 2002. The traditionally low-priced leg quarters and wings also saw an increase in price, nearly doubling in 2003.
The poultry industry is vertically integrated, so good wholesale prices do not increase the price growers receive. Alternately, poor prices do not influence growers' income.
"Contract prices are not affected by the market, so the growers' pay doesn't cycle with production," Chamblee said.
Overall wholesale prices saw an increase in 2003 and are much better than they were the previous year. But it's the egg prices that are making wholesalers happy.
"Egg prices are unbelievable," Chamblee said. "Companies cut back on the number of hens in egg production, plus the Exotic Newcastle disease in California a year ago led to the destruction of millions of birds, many of them egg-producing hens."
Chamblee said demand is up, in part because of the popular Atkins diet but also because of public acceptance of the fact that eggs are not bad for the body as was once believed.
Wholesale egg prices are about $1.20 a dozen for Grade A large, with these eggs selling for $1.50 a dozen at retail. Chamblee predicted that egg prices will stay high for a while longer.
Mississippi has one egg production facility, and the number of broiler facilities stayed level in 2003.