AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—Poultry is big business in Alabama. Commercial poultry production generates more than $15 billion in revenue in Alabama each year, employing more than 86,000 workers industrywide. For this reason, Alabama Extension professionals helped develop and execute a plan to put poultry producers on the map when Alabama CARES Act funds were distributed in the agricultural sector.
Dennis Brothers, an associate Extension professor with a poultry specialty, said he and Extension economist Adam Rabinowitz partnered with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries (ADAI) and other poultry interest groups in Alabama to secure allocations for poultry growers in the state.
“When the CARES Act funds became available the distribution method was still being decided,” Brothers said. “We worked closely with the ADAI, the Alabama Farmers Federation (ALFA) and the Alabama Poultry and Egg Association (APEA) to develop a solution for growers.”
Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture, Rick Pate, said he saw remarkable cooperation between ADAI, APEA, Alabama Extension and other state agencies.
“Alabama Extension and APEA were very helpful in getting the word out to poultry producers so they would know if they were eligible to participate in the program,” Pate said.
Survey Responses Support Allocation
Through the initial plans, only broiler growers would receive compensation for excessive days of out time between flocks. However, through the more than 200 survey responses Extension personnel were able to gain understanding of the COVID-induced situation for Alabama contract growers.
“The COVID outbreak meant growers weren’t getting flocks as frequently,” Brothers said. “This ‘days of out time’ metric was an easy target to hit. However, survey confirmed there were other impacts. This included breeder growers who raise hatching eggs with excessive out times. It also included density changes caused by integrators sending less birds to houses and some fluctuations in flock lengths.”
Survey results also showed that a 21-day threshold for relief—the original threshold length—was too long. Brothers said survey responses were able to help determine the time should be a smaller window. The ADAI settled on 17 days instead of 21.
Professionals estimate an additional 25 percent of growers were eligible for relief funding thanks to the expansion of allocation parameters. These producers would have been ineligible for help otherwise.
Funding Helps Mitigate Risks
Brothers said while there is coverage for growers through contract agreements, there are still risks surrounding poultry production.
“Many farms took a hard hit,” Brothers said. “When these funds became available it was really helpful for the poultry producers. The opportunity to help poultry growers get access to risk assistance was a small silver lining in the COVID pandemic.”
Pate said this was the first time most poultry producers were recipients of any support during the pandemic, or before.
“We were able to speak to some of the poultry growers who were compensated for their financial losses,” Pate said. “All were grateful for the assistance and expressed how much it would help make up some of the difference in their reduced income.”
The ADAI received a total of 727 applications. However, after some application withdrawals and the removal of out-of-state applications, 697 applicants received compensation. The total payout for the poultry program was nearly $3.5 million. Twenty-nine Alabama poultry processing facilities also saw a payout totaling $1.1 million.
Gary Lemme, retired director of the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, said the Alabama poultry industry has been able to get some relief from the lasting effects of the pandemic thanks to the hard work and collaboration of advocates of the Alabama poultry industry.
“The work Dennis, Adam and others put in to ensure our Alabama poultry producers received recognition and compensation for losses during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic was exceptional,” Lemme said. “Their recognition of a need, as well as their foresight to survey growers and develop parameters for compensation is highly commendable. This is an example of Extension at its best—working together with the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries for the benefit of Alabama farmers.”
For more information on poultry production in Alabama, or to find production resources visit Alabama Extension online at www.aces.edu.