Mississippi’s poultry industry remains the state’s top agricultural commodity by responding to export market changes and meeting the needs of consumers.

Poultry ended 2010 with an estimated $2.5 billion production value, an 8 percent increase from 2009. That figure includes a broiler value of $2.3 billion, eggs at $178 million and chickens at $5 million.

“The increase in poultry value stems from all segments of the industry,” said agricultural economist John Michael Riley of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. “Broiler production increased almost $175 million, up a little more than 8 percent from 2009. That segment saw an increase each month from November 2009 to November 2010. Egg production had an increase of just under $19 million, which is a 12 percent increase from 2009.”

Riley said increasing consumer demand was the biggest economic factor in 2010.

“Consumers are continually looking for ways to trim spending, and chicken provides a low-cost protein that is also quick and easy to prepare,” he said. “People are relying on in-home meal preparation rather than going out to restaurants, and this trend bodes well for the poultry industry.”

Danny Thornton, MSU Extension poultry specialist, said the weakened economy did not have an adverse effect on the Mississippi poultry industry in 2010.

“If anything, the current economic situation has encouraged even more consumers to turn to inexpensive ways to feed their families,” Thornton said. “Not only are consumers buying more chicken, they are buying a lot more eggs. Eggs are an incredibly cheap source of protein.”

Thornton said consumers are also starting to raise their own birds for egg production.

“A lot of Mississippians have been inquiring about how to raise their own poultry flocks,” he said. “Many are looking for ways to cut costs, and others are interested in raising organic poultry.”

Thornton said this new trend has not affected Mississippi’s poultry industry.

“There just isn’t enough of a switch to backyard flocks to take a toll on the industry,” Thornton said. “With Cal-Maine here in our state, we have access to commercially produced quality eggs, and consumers know that.”

Export markets for Mississippi’s poultry products remained strong in 2010, and the industry continues to look for opportunities to market their product overseas.

“More and more producers are taking advantage of export markets. One big area is chicken paw, or feet, exports to Asia,” Thornton said. “There has also been an increase in demand for that product here in the United States. The Mississippi poultry industry is tapping into that, selling paws to markets in California and along the East Coast.”

Riley said Russia placed a trade restriction earlier in the year that cut U.S. exports to that country by 84 percent.

“Russia restricted the amount of chlorine that could be used for disinfection at processing plants,” Riley said “The ban was lifted in June just as there was a decline in the U.S. dollar. The weak dollar helped increase exports because it makes our goods cheaper than those from other countries, thus providing a boost to exports.”

There could be some challenges as the industry enters the new year, Riley said.

“Fuel and feed prices will likely be a key issue in 2011,” Riley said. “These prices were tempered a bit in early 2010 and surged at year’s end, so there will be some hurdles with costs.”

Thornton said the industry is planning ahead and expanding to meet these challenges. “The industry is stable, and that provides a solid foundation to start expanding. Peco Foods is building a state-of-the-art feed mill in the middle of the state that will replace their old facility. It’ll increase their capacity to transfer ingredients more efficiently.”

Even with the impressive increase in production values in 2010, the poultry industry continues to position itself for change, Thornton said.

“There is ongoing talk of change and expansion,” Thornton said. “The industry remains successful because it stays a step ahead of consumers and can always offer them what they want.”