PIC’s Picks March 2012
By Tim Nelson Executive DirectorFeatures Research Welfare Poultry Research Sustainability
There is little doubt that poultry production/science teaching at Canadian universities has decreased over the last 20 years.
The explanation for this reduction in the amount of poultry production/science being taught lies quite simply in a supply and demand equation.
As farm size and technological sophistication increases, the need for a large volume of skilled and semi-skilled workers decreases. With automation comes unemployment. It’s the story of advanced agricultural countries the world over. If there is no demand for poultry science graduates from our industry, students will not choose to enrol in poultry production/science courses. No enrolment means no work for teaching staff.
The recruitment of teaching staff at a university (that the university is willing to pay for), will therefore be into those disciplines that bring revenue to the university – the ones that fill lecture halls and cost little to run, where classes of up to 1,200 students are possible. The social sciences and psychology are the current moneymakers. Universities are no different from any private business in that they look to where they can grow profits. Just as in agriculture, economies of scale are attractive, as opposed to niche markets – the teaching of poultry production/science, for example – which are not.
And, as with niche markets, if the customer is willing to pay, the supplier will provide the product. Teaching poultry production/science is as to a dozen organic eggs as teaching psychology is to a dozen caged eggs.
Poultry nutrition is a smaller niche market again, just one element of poultry production/science.
Of course, industry still requires highly skilled technicians, production managers and scientists or, in the jargon of the day, highly qualified personnel (HQP).
Those of you who employ such people will have come to recognize that more and more they are coming at a premium, because there are fewer and fewer of them.
We will always need poultry nutritionists – the feed and ingredients manufacturers employ many of them.
But the fact remains, we do need fewer people now than we did 20 years ago and perhaps we need fewer poultry nutritionists. But perhaps not.
The retirement of Dr. Steve Leeson from the University of Guelph has created a conundrum for the industry. Do we value having a poultry nutritionist at the University of Guelph highly enough to dig deep and pay for it? The cost would run somewhere between $750,000 and $1 million to secure a position into perpetuity.
And, then there is the question of research. Feed represents approximately 70 per cent of our input costs. Feedstuffs will, in the not too distant future, be in short supply around the world and costs will increase.
The industry is evolving towards a future where our environmental, food safety and welfare record will be under the constant scrutiny of an ever more inquisitive and demanding consumer.
What we feed and how we feed it can play an enormous role in defining how we manage some of these issues and, therefore, is of paramount importance to the sustainability of our industry.
There are several other poultry nutritionists at work to one degree or another at universities around the country and, of course, the feed companies employ their own nutrition experts on staff.
So, do we need a poultry nutritionist at the University of Guelph? If we do, are we prepared as an industry to dig deep and pay for the privilege? We’d like your thoughts on this.
PIC hosted a meeting with the feed companies in late January to discuss the issue. However, if demand is there we will convene a broader meeting and facilitate an industry-wide discussion in the spring. Send us your thoughts: e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The more response we get, the more robust the discussion, the better the result. Join in.
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