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Poultry remains state's top crop
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE –Each year for the past decade, poultry has ruled the roost as Mississippi’s top crop, and 2009 is no exception.
Poultry ended the year with a total value of $2.3 billion, a 3 percent drop from the $2.37 billion posted in 2008. The total value is derived from estimates representing broiler, egg and chicken production. Broiler production, the largest segment of the industry, weighed in at $2.15 billion for 2009, while egg production was valued at $140.7 million and chickens at $5 million.
The largest decline in value within the different industry segments was egg production, which dropped 21 percent from $179 million in 2008. Broiler value dropped by less than 2 percent from 2008, and the value of chicken production fell only 4 percent from the previous year.
“The decline in value stems from a price drop for table eggs,” said agricultural economist John Michael Riley of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Egg prices have declined about 25 percent from what they were in September, but 2008’s egg prices were much higher. The 2009 decline seems drastic when compared with 2008, but it is not as dramatic a drop as we have seen in previous years.”
One of the main reasons poultry was not hit as hard economically as other agricultural commodities is the caution that producers and growers showed with their spending.
“With the current economic situation, the industry has held back on plans to expand,” said MSU Extension poultry specialist Danny Thornton. “Their restraint has helped them stay on top despite the economy working against them.”
Some poultry industry representatives may admit that 2009 was a little tough, but they did not let the economic downturn keep them down. Growers struggled with fuel costs but found ways to save money and manage their operations more efficiently and effectively.
“Most industry participants grew up on poultry farms and have been through good times and bad,” Thornton said. “When times are tough, they hunker down and figure out a plan.”
Mississippi Poultry Association president Mark Leggett said producers and growers used knowledge from previous production years to make smart decisions in 2009.
“Gasoline and grain prices were really high in 2008, and many producers and growers struggled through it,” Leggett said. “That allowed them to approach 2009 cautiously, and that approach has paid off.”
The industry’s overall strategy of pursuing new markets and paying attention to consumer habits has successfully positioned poultry as a popular, affordable food choice.
“Consumers are not eating out as much because of the economy, so poultry sales to restaurants have been down somewhat,” Leggett said. “When consumers shop for groceries, poultry is usually their meat of choice because the price is right.”
Mississippi poultry products are popular overseas, too. China is a major consumer of chicken “paws,” or feet, which are a delicacy there. Mississippi also exports a considerable amount of dark meat to international markets around the world.
“Knowing what consumers want contributes to the successful way that the poultry industry has met the challenges imposed by the economic downturn we are experiencing,” Thornton said. “This knowledge always pays off in the long run.”