The Israeli poultry sector is made up of four branches: thelaying eggs branch, the poultry meat branch, the turkey branch, and the reproduction branch. The laying branch is starting a big reform in order to replace old poultryenclosures with new improved modern facilities. The poultrybranch struggles with low prices and wild competition.
By Amos de Winter, Israel
Until 1980, Israeli agriculture carriedmainly a combined caricature of domestic agriculture. The simple farmer had a poultry enclosure, 3-4 cows, 1 hectare of citrus orchards and maybe half a hectare of vegetables grown in open fields. The economical crisis that caught the Israeli farmers by that time brought a revolution to this structure that suited the early years of the young Israeli state. Many farmers left the combined and mixed agriculturefor expertise agriculture, with one growerfocusing on one main agricultural branch.The combined domestic agriculture system was no longer profitable.
By that time, many poultry growers withdrew from the branch, although they still held onto a grower's license. The farmers past a major change - some turned into growing laying hens, some to poultry only, and others focused ongrowing for reproduction and to supplyingchicks to the different branches.
Today, the Israeli poultry industry is divided into two major parts. The first part involves big and modern poultry enclosures, mainly owned by kibbutzes, which is an Israeli collective settlement, or wealthy people. These are called integrations because of there ability to supply the whole "package" (poultry meat, eggs and chicks) all from the same source. The second part belongs to moshavs, which are cooperative agricultural Israeli settlements based on families. Most of these growers are concentrated in the northern regionof Israel and in the Jerusalem mountainarea.
All poultry production in Israel is made for the local market, and only a very small amount is exported, consisting of mainly poultry meat, ostrich meat or quails, particularly for the American Jewish kosher market.
The poultry broiler sector holds 52% of the production, the laying (eggs) sector 16%, the turkey sector 14%, and the reproduction sector 18%. In Israel, the production rate of the poultry branches stands on NIS3.8 billion (New Israeli Shekels) (US$895 million) per year. The Israeli people consume 1.7 billion eggs annually, 430,000 t of poultry meat and 90,000 t turkey meat.
The laying branch
This year is an important year for the laying branch in Israel, especially afterthe government's decision on conductinga reform within this branch. The numberof growers in the Israeli agriculture has significance decreased over the years. Many decided to deal with tourism, in some combined with agriculture, and as a result the number of the farmers in the moshavs is now smaller. Many of the non-agricultural residents now complain that the agricultural farms turn into an environmental hazard (mainly by smell).
According to the reform that the Ministry of Agriculture led by Minister Shalom Simchon promotes, small family poultry enclosures will be removed from residential areas atthe western upper Galilee region, andin their place, 80 new and modern poultry farms will be build (with 15 poultry enclosures planned for each farm) on 120 hectares concentrated in new areas, some in forests. The reform cost, already unanimously approved by the government, is about NIS750 million (US$175 million). The first stage is expected to be implemented during the next five years.
The target of the reform is to put an end to bad odours, and improve the environment, as well as sanitary and health conditions in the moshavs. In addition, the new farms will benefitthe economical situation of the growers.
Two months ago, the Ministry of Agriculture decided which companies will plan the project and on the optimal poultry enclosure type and sites. The first five moshavs will take part in theproject in a pilot plane for infrastructurepreparations and the removal of poultry enclosures out of the yards. A total of 2,000 growers will benefit from the reform (from 3,000 laying eggs quota owners) in 26 moshavs, which received quotas and subsidies from the state, according to the Galilee law. One of the problems the laying branch has to deal with is the smuggling of eggsfrom the Palestinian authority, from enclosures that have no veterinarian supervision. Law and police forces try to catch these smugglers, who often sell their eggs for a lower price. This branch has finished 2008 with the production of 1.7 billion eggs.
The poultry meat sector
Israeli broiler growers are suffering from a sharp decrease in poultry product prices, which has caused a mass shutdown of many poultry enclosures due to a lack of profit. As a result of heavy market competition, combined with a communication crisis, a surplus was made and the branch collapsed. In the past year, however, the branch reached a level of stability.
Avshalom Dolev, chairman of the Israeli poultry foundation, says, "We havetwo agricultural systems that serve the branch, and one system depends on theother. One branch produces reproductioneggs and foodstuff mixtures, and the hatcheries process them to chicks. The growers receive the chicks and produce poultry, and the slaughterhouses processit to the final product. Part of the branch turned into a vertical integration, and by doing that diminished all conflict of interests. The other part is suffering from low prices that were made by the integrations, and that’s why there are many difficulties and debates. Lately, the poultry council reached a total arrangement aimed at stabilising the branch in 2009 and 2010."
In the poultry branch, the government plans to replace the poultry enclosures with modern enclosures. Chairman of the poultry branch in the Israeli poultry grower's organisation, Shuki Bashan, claims that reducing density in poultry enclosures will decrease the occurrence of diseases, and will increase growers' profits, because every output reduction caused by a disease causes damages of US$30 million.
Recently, the Minister of Agriculture, Shalom Simchon, announced that he intends to allow more growers to enter the branch in order to reduce poultry density in growing sites. In addition, Simchon is looking for ways to make growers increase the interval time between hatches (the chick growing period until marketing) as a way to improve sanitation level and reduce diseases. Today, the growing process is done with about 20,000 chickens per dunam (1,000 sq. m) in 6-7 hatches per year. Simchon intends to reduce the hatches to 5.5 hatches per year. The Israeli poultry branch produces about 400,000 t per year.
Avian influenza and diseases
Israel is constantly in danger of being hitby avian influenza due to the simple fact that the country is a world transport station for bird immigration, especially between east and west Europe to Africa. Each year, millions of birds pass through Israel (storks, pelicans, cranes, etc.) on their way to their destination in Africa.
On 14 March 2006, an H5N1 avian influenza outbreak occurred in a turkey enclosure at kibbutz Ein-Hashlosha in the southern area of Israel. The disease soon spread to neighbouring kibbutz and also one moshav. The Ministry of Agriculture acted fast and ordered an immediate extermination of all chickens in those enclosures. It is believed that these measures stopped an epidemic disaster.
In January 2008 there was another avian influenza outbreak in the pets spot for children at kibbutz Binyamina. There was an enclosure of 10 km radius around Binyamina. Fortunately no other signs of the disease where discovered.
The Israeli poultry sector constantly deals with Newcastle Disease. In order to monitor the sector, each poultry farm owner has to maintain veterinarian tests on a weekly basis and report the results to the veterinarian services at the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture. The Ministry then publishes a list of poultry enclosures that are allowed to market their birds.
Moly Levit, general manager of the poultry council, states that diseases present a big challenge for the Israeli poultry industry, particularly diseases that put people in danger, such as avian influenza and various strains of salmonella.
"The only way we can cope with this matter is by upgrading the poultry bio-security measures. Without doing that we can’t move forward, not inpoultry supply and not in food supply. My goal is to reach the same high level in the meat and eggs branches. Avian influenza causes panic among citizens and we have to keep it on an extremely low level, by fast tracking and isolation,” said Levit. “The world aims to treat 23 different sorts of salmonella, that were not treated until today. In the past decade onlytwo sorts where treated, but nowadays in Europe and in the US there is a treatment for three additional sorts. In order to face these challenges we established a new northern laboratoryand upgraded our southern laboratory."
Levit goes on to say that in the poultry meat branch, the main problem is to create a temporary surplus in production. "The demand for meat increased by 5%, but the building of new poultry enclosures is bigger then retirement rate. We will have to find the answer by increasing public demand for poultry meat. We are now at a point where the growers have to decide whether they want to produce a lot and earn little or to make arrangements and to earn normal," concluded Levit.