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Developing poultry farm training fit for the future

Farming is in the midst of a long-standing recruitment crisis, but it is arguably the poultry sector where this is most acute. A leading academic has explored the issue in detail.

The Information Age is here, and the poultry industry – just like every sector of business – needs to adapt and innovate to succeed in this time of change.

A key aspect that will impact the future direction of the poultry food chain in the UK and other countries is its workforce, at all levels, and the future skills needs for the whole industry were explored by Dr David Llewellyn, vice chancellor of Harper Adams, at a meeting in London in early June.

Presenting the 25th in the series of Temperton Fellowship reports, Dr Llewellyn drew on his experience of academia, published literature and the expertise of a number of those across the poultry sector.

David Llewellyn presenting his Temperton report. Photo: Jackie Linden
David Llewellyn presenting his Temperton report. Photo: Jackie Linden

Poultry sector faces specific challenges

As data and information become ever more available to us, it is clear that all industries and businesses need to be ready to adapt constantly. All levels in the workforce will need to handle and prioritise this increasing information flow in order to contribute to this technological revolution. While presenting both opportunities and challenges, Dr Llewellyn found there will be far-reaching consequences for future labour and skills requirements, just at a time when there will be a labour shortage in the next 5 to 8 years owing to a dip in the birth rate.

Adding to these factors facing all areas of business, the poultry sector faces some specific challenges. There has been a marked consolidation in poultry research and education in the UK over a number of years, and many young people are unaware of the opportunities the sector offers for a range of careers.

Vital for the efficiency of the poultry sector

Dr Llewellyn’s study identified automation and data management as the first key area of focus for the future application of new technologies to the poultry industry. As an example from another area of agriculture, a first crop of barley is growing in a trial plot at Harper Adams University without any human labour. It has been sown and received fertiliser applications using tractors guided by GPS, and the crop is monitored by drone.

In a recent survey of European farmers by the Boston Consulting Group, Precision Livestock Farming – which is based on automation and data management – was identified as the most influential trend likely to impact farming practices and structures to 2030. The technology is already being adapted for the poultry industry, for example, by monitoring and analysing bird movements in the broiler house to offer an early warning of possible problems before they become apparent to the stockman.

Also on that priority list of new technologies for inclusion on the educational curriculum at all levels should be the management of environmental conditions, poultry health and welfare, genetics, and novel uses of poultry materials. Examples of the latter include extracting protein from eggshell to help repair damaged cartilage in people, and egg white as an ingredient to power drug delivery devices.

Not only are these issues vital for the efficiency of the poultry sector, they also represent focus areas for society’s concerns, regulation and future growth.

End of an era

The Temperton Fellowship was set up to commemorate the contribution to the industry of Dr Harold Temperton, who was director of the National Institute of Poultry Husbandry at Harper Adams Agricultural College from 1951 to 1974. Since 1989, Peel Holroyd has been chairman of the Fellowship management committee, and has overseen all of the 25 reports in the series. He has now stepped down from this role, and handed over to Dr Llewellyn, who thanked him for his great contribution and dedication to the Fellowship over the last 28 years.

Meeting the future needs of the poultry industry

In his study, Dr Llewellyn identified a number of successful schemes in the UK that are helping to meet the future needs of the poultry industry for an appropriately skilled workforce, including the British Poultry Council’s scholarship programme. He called for more companies to participate in such schemes.

The industry has long called for positive messages about the career possibilities in the sector to be disseminated to young people, their parents and teachers. While websites have a role to play in getting the messages out, the report recommends a “one-stop shop” for all the material that is currently dispersed across the web, and that this portal should be set up by the industry itself.

With animal welfare a high priority for many consumers and diverse lobby groups, Dr Llewellyn suggests that a new story should be developed by the industry to demonstrate the positive contribution technology can make to the health and well-being of poultry, rather than on the benefits to business, which has often been the focus up to now.

Finally, more and better ways need to be established for industry to help educators, and vice versa. This requires closer collaboration and co-operation, both between and within these sectors. To take advantage of public investment, the poultry industry needs urgently to decide what its wants to achieve in which areas of technology.

Creating the new generation of ‘Tempertons’

In conclusion, Dr Llewellyn said that now is not the time to recreate a physical destination for the training and education of the poultry industry’s future workforce.

“Any industry investment should be used to create the new generation of ‘Tempertons’ who could work with industry to enthuse, in turn, the next generation of students about the world of poultry production and ensure that the poultry industry has a sound base of academic talent from which to pursue innovation,” he added.

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Jackie Linden

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