Report calls for a crucial new perspective on career opportunities in agriculture
CHICKEN MEAT / Tuesday, 31 October 2023
Five surprising things about a career in the chicken meat industry
In fact, in 2022/23 we ate more than 50kg of chicken, on average, per person according to ABARES, with 68 per cent of Australians saying they eat it at least twice a week. That’s almost as much as the combined total of the other main meats we each ate – beef and veal (21kg), sheep (6kg) and pig (27kg).
I have no doubt many people, particularly younger generations, may think chicken – which is cheaper than other meats, is easy to prepare, tasty and versatile – has always been so popular.
But that’s not the case.
It’s been consumers’ favourite meat since 2006, but if you turn the clock back about 50 years, in 1974 we ate less than 13kg of chicken per person annually, compared to almost 94kg of beef, pig and sheep meat combined.
The spectacular turnaround, spurred on by a combination of factors including breeding and processing efficiencies, has seen Australia taking equal third place in per capita consumption of chicken in the world – we’re neck and neck with Brazil, and just behind the US and Malaysia, according to the Foreign Agricultural Service, USDA.
And there’s no sign our love for chicken meat will wane any time soon, despite consumers’ apparent growing interest in alternative plant-based proteins.
Having been involved in the chicken meat industry for almost three decades, I’ve never been more excited about this promising trajectory and the innovation that’s driving it.
The challenge, however, is that the number of people taking up a career in the industry is not keeping up with demand.
Our industry directly employs around 58,000 people across rural, regional and urban communities (for context, the red meat industry employs 189,000 people). Although employment increased annually by 1.4 per cent in the decade to 2016, the chicken meat industry needs more people with a diverse range of technical and practical skills to support its growth.
So, what’s the barrier?
In my view, while those working inside the industry understand how fascinating and unexpectedly diverse a career in the chicken meat industry can be, it is not so well understood on the outside. With a view to breaking this down, here’s five aspects that I love about my industry, that may be surprising to many.
Unique industry structure underpins career progression
Australia’s chicken meat industry is vertically integrated, making its structure quite different from other agricultural industries. Individual chicken processing companies generally own most elements of production – from breeding farms, hatcheries and feed mills to primary and further processing plants (although the chicks are generally reared by individual farmers). This means companies have a holistic view of the entire system which creates good career progression opportunities.
Eclectically diverse roles: The list of skills required throughout the supply chain is long, meaning a career with variety is a given. Generalists and specialists are required across areas including nutritionists, veterinarians, welfare, biosecurity, livestock, marketing, sales, administration, logistics, hatcheries, quality assurance, laboratory chemists and microbiologists, food technology, feed milling, processing, product development, IT, servicing our customer and consumers and many more.
Most environmentally sustainable of all meats
Commercial chicken meat production is the most environmentally sustainable of all land-based animal proteins and chickens are the most efficient converters of feed into meat of all land-based livestock species. These are industry features that have been improved significantly over the last 45 years, and we are constantly looking for new opportunities to improve sustainability, production efficiencies and bird welfare.
A scientifically dynamic, research driven industry
Australia’s poultry production is unique when compared to other countries, given the diversity of climate and feed ingredients across the nation, and we still have a lot to learn – and biosecurity is paramount. We have a vibrant, renowned research community focusing on solutions to positively impact the whole industry. This has led to many scientific and technological breakthroughs, from AI driven motion-based monitoring to optimise chicken welfare; to using food waste to create commercial chicken feed that reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Trajectory of growth
Of all the agricultural food production areas, I am confident poultry has the most interesting growth opportunity ahead.
Being part of this industry has been fascinating and fulfilling, and I’m passionate about encouraging younger people to join the industry to give them a similar career journey as I have had.
AgriFutures has recently partnered with the industry to launch the AgriFutures Cultivate Program, which provides an unparalleled opportunity to launch a career in a thriving sector for young people aged 17-25 who are interested in animal welfare, innovation, and sustainability.
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