Poultry: A key Georgia export

Moderated by Rick Badie

U.S. poultry exports enjoyed a record year in 2014, but an industry executive suggests this year may present a more challenging global market in the demand for chicken products, including Georgia’s. The other column looks at the relationship between Georgia Tech and Liberia in the technology sector. The third column notes the important connection between our forests and drinking water.

Volatile poultry market affects Georgia

By James H. Sumner

As the nation’s top chicken-producing state, Georgia has reaped the benefits of a second consecutive year of record U.S. poultry exports.

In 2014, exports of U.S. poultry – including Georgia chicken – reached an all-time high of 4.1 million metric tons, 0.4 percent ahead of 2013, while value fell 0.3 percent to $5.501 billion, the second-highest ever.

Shipped to more than 130 countries, Georgia’s chicken exports were an estimated $703 million last year. The state’s chicken production accounts for more than 40 percent of its agricultural economic activity.

But it was actually an unusually tough year for Georgia chicken exports, and the way 2015 is looking, it could be a lot tougher.

The record came despite losing a top market – Russia, thanks to its August embargo on Western agricultural imports, a response to U.S. sanctions over Russia’s Ukraine activities. Had this happened a few years ago, when Russia accounted for more than 40 percent of our exports, the impact would have been disastrous. But because our industry has diversified its exports, the embargo barely caused a ripple.

Exports account for more than 20 percent of all U.S. chicken meat production. Although reliable state data aren’t readily available, anecdotal evidence suggests that Georgia’s export percentage is significantly higher; numerous exporting companies are located in Atlanta.

Georgia is also home to the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council, headquartered in Stone Mountain and founded in Tucker 30 years ago. During its existence, exports have grown steadily. All the while, the global protein trade has become increasingly complex, making it necessary for the Council to evolve from a promotional organization to one that focuses more attention on government policies affecting trade here and abroad.

Our domestic staff and 14 international offices spend as much of their time working to keep markets open and opening new markets as they do promoting U.S. poultry and eggs.

Though I’m an optimist, reaching another record in 2015 may be a challenge. Besides Russia, three other major markets – China, Korea, and South Africa – have also banned our imports because of recent detections of highly pathogenic avian influenza in several western states. About 30 countries have similar bans, either on the affected states or the whole country. China and Korea alone accounted for $250 million in U.S. poultry exports last year.

Our industry is also grappling with a weakening global economy, unfavorable currency values against the U.S. dollar, protectionist measures in Angola and Ghana, two important African markets and an ongoing anti-dumping case against U.S. poultry in South Africa.

There are bright spots. Cuba, our fifth-leading export market for chicken, could become bigger if the trade embargo is lifted. Mexico and Canada account for $2 billion of our poultry exports and continue growing. Fortunately, our industry is becoming more diversified and less-dependent on individual markets.

While we trumpet 2014 as an apex year, we can’t promise a repeat. Although the industry is historically cyclical, exports have been somewhat immune from the peaks and valleys. We may be facing a perfect storm of factors that could make 2015 a forgettable year.

Fortunately, this comes during a time of strong domestic consumption. With beef prices becoming almost unaffordable for many, chicken consumption is growing. In recent years, exports have been good for our industry, but perhaps this is the year for our domestic market to take the lead while global forces realign.

Poultry exporters have grown resilient and adaptable to constant global changes. And even if 2015 fails to become another entry in the record books, chances are still good that a growing global population and its hunger for protein will again bode well for U.S. poultry exporters.

James H. Sumner, president of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council.

Go fix it

By Mike Best

“Go fix it. That’s a call to everybody. Go fix it.”

So extolled Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in a recent NPR interview. She was speaking about the Ebola scourge on her country, now mercifully in decline, but she could have been speaking about hundreds of other challenges facing that West African nation.

Sirleaf’s call to her people also perfectly encompasses the ethos of Georgia Tech. Go fix it. At Tech, if a problem or opportunity presents itself, we assemble the people, build the prototype and innovate the solution.

On Feb. 11, Georgia Tech and the Republic of Liberia signed a Memorandum of Understanding celebrating nearly a decade-long “go fix it” style partnership that explores how information and communication technologies can serve as a tool in Liberia’s development.The memorandum solidified a relationship between Liberia’s national telecommunications operator, Libtelco, its Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications; and my Technologies and International Development Lab at Georgia Tech.

When it comes to information and communication technologies, Liberia is a country of extremes. It has one of the world’s lowest levels of Internet penetration, with just 5% percent of the population experiencing some degree of access, according to the United Nation’s ITU. But it has enjoyed some of the highest growth rates in mobile phone use anywhere, with an estimated 60 percent of the population subscribers to one of three private mobile phone operators.

In 2003, when Liberia emerged out of 15 years of intense civil war, the country’s infrastructure stood in ruin, including the telecommunication networks. Today the lights are finely coming on – literally. The nation’s capital, Monrovia, is starting to deploy streetlights throughout the city; an underwater optical fiber cable brings Internet connectivity, via light waves, to the country’s shore.

This submarine fiber optic cable, named ACE, originates in France and traces the Western coast of Africa all the way to South Africa. When the cable made landfall in 2011, it brought to Liberia her first international connection to the Internet. The cable has delivered modern high-bandwidth global Internet to the shores of Liberia.

Now it’s Libtelco’s aspiration to distribute this bandwidth beyond its coastal landing point, to the people who live throughout the nation. This is no small task, requiring the development and deployment of a national telecommunications backbone. Georgia Tech researchers are working with Libtelco to help develop the technical approach, as well as the financing plans and demand drivers, for this major project.

Collaboration around the fiber optic cable is just one partnership between Tech and Liberia. Tech was a key contributor to the country’s national information and communication policy and has helped build capacity within its telecommunications regulatory authority.

In a series of world-firsts, we collaborate with their Truth and Reconciliation Commission, an independent governmental body tasked with giving voice to civil war victims and encouraging processes of national healing. Researchers from my lab developed interactive video story-sharing technologies to support a healing dialog and created the first secure online system that allowed Liberians to submit sworn sealed testimony directly to the Commission via the Internet. As the Commission finished its work, it shipped its entire physical archive to Georgia Tech for conservation, digital scanning, and safekeeping.

Georgia Tech students have been central partners throughout this collaboration with Liberia. Every summer Tech students travel to Monrovia to offer classes on computer topics to the country’s emerging tech-savvy community. The courses are hosted by the iLab, a technology innovation and training center in Monrovia co-founded by a Georgia Tech alumnus.

All of these projects point to Liberia’s ever-increasing recognition of the promise computer and communication technologies offer for the nation’s development. The recently-signed memorandum signals the important role that Georgia Tech is playing in realizing this promise. “Go fix it” is the Tech leitmotif and an attitude we share with Liberia. It is this shared philosophy that helps drive our productive partnership.

Michael L. Best, a Georgia Tech professor, directs the United Nations University Institute on Computing and Society.

Protect our waters

By Steve McWilliams and Katherine Zitsch

New conversations about water in Georgia emerge against familiar backdrops of population growth, litigation with neighboring states, the ever-present possibility of drought, generational land use, infrastructure needs and other policy and resource questions.

There may be, as is often suggested, “two Georgias.”

Nevertheless, the water flowing through the rural and urban parts of our state inextricably connects our destinies. That’s why 65 leaders recently gathered in Savannah to start a dialogue about working to sustain Georgia’s private working forests and the significant contributions they make to downstream communities. An important theme we identified was the connection between forests and drinking water.

Many of Georgia’s streams and rivers begin or flow through forested land. These forests provide a vital filtration system for 134 water supply reservoirs. When water reaches metro Atlanta, it is managed according to plans shaped by the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District. The district brings together 15 counties and 92 cities that serve more than half of Georgia’s population to identify ways water should be managed to ensure it supports a range of uses.

Ninety percent of Georgia’s 24 million forested acres is privately owned and managed in compliance with State Forestry Best Management Practices. Long before water reaches reservoirs or treatment systems, it has first been filtered by trees. As it flows down these water supply watersheds and arrives in Metro Atlanta, it is conserved according to district plans that include tiered conservation pricing (the more you use the more you pay), rebate programs to replace old and inefficient infrastructure, technologies to find and fix leaks in water systems and public education programs. Through district plans and related conservation measures, the Atlanta region has achieved a 10 percent drop in total water use despite a population increase of a million people.

According to “Forests to Faucets,” a 2013 report from the Forest Guild and others, well-managed forests serve “as a form of “natural infrastructure,” filtering “pollutants, sediment and harmful bacteria out of the water, absorbing water into soils to be slowly released into rivers and streams and providing protection to downstream communities by buffering potential flood waters.” The Metro Water District takes the next steps in protecting this precious resource by engaging more governments and water systems than anywhere else in America.

The district will soon begin the process of updating its plans for the Metro Atlanta region’s storm water, wastewater, water supply and water conservation. This update will involve integrating the plans and anticipating growth while preserving the environment. The district and its plans reflect a clear understanding of shared stewardship in the watershed: the work of protecting water quality and drinking water supplies begins before water reaches the region and continues downstream.

The vast majority of the forests that filter our water and deliver a range of other  economic, recreational and ecosystem services are grown by private landowners who depend on healthy markets to keep their land planted in trees for generations. In addition to strong markets for wood and fiber from their forests, landowners depend on good public policy, including fair taxation for forest land that uses virtually no taxpayer-funded services.

We have started the conversation to find ways to collaborate to protect all of our waters across Georgia. And that’s new.

Steve McWilliams is president of the Georgia Forestry Association; Katherine Zitsch is director of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District.




View Comments 0