The United States has a poultry problem, and the unheralded follow up to “A Christmas Story”, Peter Billingsley provides us with but one of the many issues we have to face.
Our most recent VALOR experience took us to the Shenandoah Valley, where we were given the opportunity to meet and discuss several issues facing the producers and consumers of poultry products both domestically and internationally. We also had a chance to view a film that champions alternative farming practices and the people who are leading this “Regressive” farming movement.
From what we could see, the industry is facing criticism from multiple fronts. The free range movement, which I saw as an alternative marketing technique, has lead individuals to assault the indoor styled branches of the industry. Rather than band together as an industry to provide a product, factions have broken off and begun to tear down each others practices. Each side spinning the positive side of their respective production styles as negatives, and parading the inevitable shortcoming of each technique as proof of failure.
Jeff Ishee, General Manager of the Rockingham County Fair hosted our group at the Poultry Industry Showcase pavilion and spoke with us about the difficulties our industry faces, particularly in how information is shared and promoted. His radio show tries to address this knowledge gap, one commercial break at a time. The frustration still continues as the majority of his listeners are already well informed, in effect Jeff is “preaching to the choir.” Hobey Bauhan, President of the Virginia Poultry Federation spoke to us about his organizations work in disseminating that information out to the public leaders that make the policies affecting our agricultural standards and practices. He spoke to the educational foundation that must be established and enforced just to give our elected officials the knowledge to have the discussion, even before he can start to defend the industry he represents. Lee Anne Biller, Manager of the Harrisonburg hatcheries for George’s, Inc., spoke to her experience with “cage-free” chicken breast marketing, lamenting that all chickens intended for meat production are raised outside of cages. While recognizing that any marketing that can be done to raise your products profile, and profit margin, is a good idea; can we continue to function as an industry if we continually prey upon our consumers ignorance, particularly at the expense of the industry itself?
The Showcase Pavilion provides the community at large a chance to see where the industry has come from and the science and reasoning behind the changes that have been made. The effort that has been put into the building only illuminates the work that has been done industry wide, much of it in the Valley, to put a “chicken in every pot”. That is a goal worth seeing through and one that must be done as a unified industry, opposed to the rooster fight we see before us.