Poultry summit draws ag college, industry reps

Managing Editor

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. (April 18, 2017) — Hoping to maintain the growth and sustainability of the poultry industry on Delmarva, regional agriculture colleges and industry representatives met in the first-of-its-kind Delmarva Poultry University-Industry Partnership Summit.
The summit opened with heads of university animal science departments of the University of Delaware, University of Maryland’s College Park and Eastern Shore campuses, Virginia Tech and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, detailing the research projects underway at their respective colleges.
“The study of poultry is more than just the study of avian health,” said Dr. Calvin Keeler of UD’s Department of Animal and Food Sciences. Interactions with people and the environmental are key components and each university representative spoke to how their school is approaching the broader scope.
More information on the research projects is available at
Keeler said land grant research has largely focused on disease prevention and cures to benefit animal health but the University of Delaware’s Avian Biosciences Center is in re-evaluation mode to better integrate research on human health, engineering and animal welfare as it relates to poultry production.
“It’s a different era,” he said.
Following the university presentations, Dr. Cyril Clarke, a veterinarian and dean of Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine asked those in the audience representing the poultry industry what their concerns are and needs from the area research community.
Don Ritter, veterinarian and senior director of health services and food safety for Mountaire Farms of Delaware said the question “is a moving target” with changes in the marketplace and regulations guiding company decisions but there are still some  continued issues to focus on.
Ritter said maintaining poultry health as antibiotic use decreases or is removed from the marketplace is needed along with better treatment for infectious laryngotracheitis.
With activist groups pressing for companies to grow chickens with slower growth rates, Ritter said there’s little to no research objectively comparing different animal-raising systems.
“We need some objective measurement to talk to our customers,” Ritter said.
Bill Satterfield, executive director for Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. said objective research on air quality in and around poultry houses is lacking.
Activist groups make claims about pollutants produced on chicken farms, he said, and “we don’t have any data to disprove them so they carry the day in policy making.”
A bill that was proposed but failed in this year’s Maryland legislative session sought to require the state Department of the Environment to conduct a one-year study of air emissions from concentrated animal feeding operations, Satterfield said the study was poorly designed and scientifically weak.
“It’s going to come back and we need the universities’ help on that,” Satterfield said.
Dr. John Brooks, a veterinarian and member of the Maryland Agriculture Commission, asked with shrinking research funding in general, what measures are taken to collaborate across university campuses to eliminate redundancy of research.
The question prompted a chorus of examples from the department heads of projects involving multiple universities and funding streams that require collaboration.
Dr. Chad Stahl, chairman of the University of Maryland’s Department of Animal and Avian Sciences said 80 percent of researchers in his department are working on collaborative grants.
“It’s not that we live in bubbles,” Stahl said. “We certainly try to seek out collaboration to make our research better.”
Dr. Mark Reiger, dean of UD’s College of Agriculture and Natural Services, echoed Stahl’s comments.
“In this day and age, the solo investigator doesn’t exist anymore,” he said. “They have to work together.”
In three breakout sessions, focused on animal production, animal health and the environment, attendees offered thoughts on what the universities were doing well and not doing well, what challenges and opportunities the industry and universities faced and how to move forward with a stronger partnership.
Collaboration and advancing bird health and nutrition were noted as strengths along with diagnostic lab support for the industry. Funding, regulations and communication were commonly mentioned as challenges.
Moving forward, clear shared goals, accountability and continued regular communication were cited as needed in an effective partnership.
Dr. Craig Beyrouty, dean of the University of Maryland’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, said all the suggestions will become “data points” used forge a better partnership.
The summit concluded with a panel of industry representatives reacting to the event and giving further feedback. Ashley Peterson, senior vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs for the National Chicken Council, called the summit and “good first step” in improving the “two-way conversation” between researchers and the region’s poultry industry.
“I think it’s important that we all talk,” Peterson said. “It’s not a one-way street. We need to be coming to you as well.”
Ritter advocated for developing a leadership committee to keep researchers, growers and industry officials communicating effectively.
Throughout the day, others brought up the idea of creating a “center of excellence” for Delmarva poultry which could prioritize research needs and communicate project results and conclusions.
“We need a long-term coordinated strategy that would avoid competition and duplication for the same resources,” he said. “We have a lot of chickens here. We have a lot of researchers here but we’er not very connected.”
Ritter added the strategy should also include a public information component with a unified voice backed by science. “We have to look at this as an opportunity and go away from here as ambassadors to promote what is good about the poultry industry,” he said.
Offering a grower perspective, Larry Thomas of Somerset County said he’d like to see universities create websites detailing research projects “in language we can understand.”
He said that information also needs to be more effectively translated to the general public.
“A lot needs to be done to change public perception and it needs to be personal,” Thomas said. “We’ve got to do a lot better job of improving public perception and helping our farmers.”
He also urged organizers of future meetings to consider timing of the growing season as they plan to allow more farmers to attend.
Dr. Tom Porter, a University of Maryland professor of animal and avian sciences was among the many attendees hoping the summit was not a one and done event.
“This is the first time in my memory that we’ve had a summit involving poultry that involved all the universities,” he said. “We need a summit, a conference like this on a regular basis.”