Trends in U.S. Agriculture

Broiler Industry

The broiler industry was one of the success stories in American agriculture during the last century and is an example of how the use of technology, improvements in production practices, and product marketing can change the basic structure of agriculture.

Broiler meat has been improved and is now a healthy, nutritious, convenient product available at a price lower than it was 50 years ago. Broilers have the best feed conversion ratio of any domesticated land-based animal. The broiler industry has evolved from millions of small backyard flocks of dual-purpose (eggs and meat) chickens in the early 1900's to less than 50 highly specialized, vertically integrated agribusiness firms.

Until 1920, chicken meat was considered a luxury reserved for special occasions. Chickens were strictly a by-product of egg production, as cockerels and unproductive hens were culled from the laying flock. Efforts to raise chickens for meat had been spotty and short-lived.

In the mid 1920's production of chickens for meat reached significant levels, and the poultry industry in the United States has evolved dramatically ever since. Scientists developed ways to meet the nutritional needs of chickens kept in protective environments, making large-scale, year-round production possible. Beginning in 1926, many processing plants voluntarily participated in a USDA inspection program for wholesomeness.

Broiler production emerged in the 1930's as a separate industry that operated year-round, rather than one producing only seasonal "spring chickens." During World War II, the biggest broiler customer was the U.S. army. After the war, more emphasis was placed on integration of production and marketing processes.

In the 1950's and 1960's, vertical integration became common, with a single company involved in every process, stabilizing the rapidly changing relationships between inputs, production, and marketing segments. Vertical integration allowed the broiler industry to take advantage of new production and processing techniques in order to become more efficient, responsive, and profitable. Federal inspection of broilers became mandatory in 1959.

In the 1970's and 1980's the broiler industry continued to implement improved production practices involving nutrition, disease eradication, genetics, and meat processing. United States chicken consumption surpassed pork consumption in 1985 and beef consumption in 1992. Many of the structural changes that had taken place in the poultry industry began to take root in these other agricultural industries later in the century.

In the 1990's, the United States Government helped sponsor broiler parts exports. The volume of exports skyrocketed to approximately 17 percent of American production. In 1999, USDA required the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points process in all federally inspected poultry slaughter establishments. Combined with an additional program of pathogen reduction, this modern approach to quality control is aimed at increasing food safety.

Last Modified: 05/04/2018