The poultry industry is the number one supplier of quality animal protein sources for human consumption.
It does not matter whether you focus on the ethics of food production or the essence of food production, from a global food security and sustainability point of view, it is essential have a prosperous and advanced poultry industry.
Recently, the Poultry Research Foundation of the University of Sydney – supported by AgriFutures Australia and BEC Feed Solutions – organised a poultry industry think-tank meeting to discuss the key challenges that will shape the poultry industry over the next 20 years.
It was well attended by leaders of industry and academia in Australia.
The three key challenges identified were people, collaboration and communication.
Here I will discuss the first challenge – people.
The other challenges will be covered in subsequent issues.
The ‘people’ challenge has been looming for quite some time.
First, finding people to do the day-to-day operation in the industry is difficult because most young people think the poultry industry is not sexy, so shy away from entering the sector.
The situation is not likely to improve greatly in the future.
Thus, the onus is on the industry to plan for its workforce, taking into account technological advancement.
That is, how many jobs will be replaced by artificial intelligence and how can the industry prepare for it in terms of the way a poultry farm operates, what the migration intake of the country looks like and the types of skills required to run a future poultry farm?
Second, finding, attracting and retaining scientific and industry leaders in the sector has become hard because the training and research providers are struggling to offer courses and conduct research due to lack of funding.
This is related to two main developments over the years.
Australian universities have been increasingly corporatised.
Meaning they support courses that attract a large number of students – in particular, international students – and research groups that bring in big grants.
Along the way, the ‘national interest’ criterion no longer plays a role in our higher education system.
If it did, it would think about supporting an area such as poultry research and training because the sector is a key pillar of Australia’s food security system.
The consequences of this are a major decline in postgraduate students interested in poultry research and undergraduate students specialising in poultry science.
This has led universities to put massive pressure on poultry science-heavy courses to rationalise due to low enrolment numbers.
Though, I’m afraid, perhaps this is not unique to the Australian higher education system?
The pool of industry funding of poultry research through the Australian Government’s research and development levy system is limited, with little increase over the years.
There is also a view by some – rather similar to that on climate change – that as a small country, Australia accounts for a very small proportion of the world population and hence, we do not need to fund research as a priority.
Indeed, one of the key reasons for the Australian national productivity slow-down has been identified as a slowed rate of innovation and technology adoption by companies.
This challenge is the priority for everyone involved in the poultry industry – be it research, education or production – and cannot be left in no-man’s land.
It is a priority that all tiers of our government should take notice of and bring it to our national agenda.
University of Sydney