Fresh Facts Week 33: The Poultry Production Shift and a Positive Outlook

By April 24, 2016Fresh Facts, Newsletter

We picked a few peaches yesterday which was surprisingly early. Maybe 40 some years experience doesn’t count anymore and April is the new May. I think I’ll just throw the calendar up on a shelf and pick fruit when it’s ready, and when it’s all done, hang it back on the wall. Fruit is like a baby, when it’s ready its ready and that’s when it’s ready, so just be ready.

A friend got me a book about a homesteading family with 5 kids in Colorado turn of the last century. Turning sod walking behind a horse drawn plow, digging a well, digging a privy, building a home and barns and then another stronger home with a storm cellar after the first one blew away… Mom and Dad would look at each other after each catastrophe and say; “we’re not quitters!” and just gut it out sewing underwear out of flour sacks and whatever else they had to do to make their dream of a place of their own survive.

Here in fruit country, as my own ancestors were pioneering a decade earlier than that, forage for the team and the family cow was grown between rows of peaches. Our family additionally grew fryer chickens; those hand fed houses with their feed sack walls were torn down when I was little and replaced with the ones we’re using today; albeit now totally updated. My grandfather ran hogs in the orchards I’m told to get some more income per acre; we still have some of those concrete pig feeders and water troughs around as proof.

The pigs and chickens were sold live daily to mom and pop stores who did their own prep in the alley out back. Peaches were loaded into ice-cooled train cars that were re-iced every few days along the tracks rolling east.

In my father’s time, those models collapsed and were replaced by fruit sold to brokers, wholesalers and jobbers, often out of the LA or SF terminal markets. Poultry production shifted to an integrator\contract-grower relationship.

During my tenure, the brokers and jobbers have all gone from the fruit business. The fruit is sold to major retailers or large regional wholesalers. Most contract poultry producers are gone at least in California, replaced by vertically integrated producers owning all aspects from the hatchery through the delivery truck. Organic production with its smaller market has lent itself to smaller scale, more hands on producers. From my vantage point, I see the organic economic production models lagging conventional by perhaps 20 years and this has been quite a chance for us little guys to catch our breath if you will.

Food safety though and its costs have kept pace with conventional and forced a consolidation of post harvest handling. The economic part of the production models will close over the next five years as organic mainstreams and labor costs are forced to double. Doubling labor costs will force mechanization which will require acres of crop specific machinery to justify. The model of an organic vegetable grower with biodiverse ½ acre plots and an employee per acre is going to be severely challenged.

Yet—while not naïve to the challenges—I’m not just optimistic about the future, I’m very optimistic about the viability of this AHO model. All of us together are smarter than all of us separately. Will things change, and will that change be challenging? OH YEAH. But ya know what? We’re not quitters, & this dream of organic farm families simply connected to your family WILL thrive.

 

Author Uncle Vern

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