By Matt Reese
In a constantly evolving set of broad factors impacting Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey production, resilient poultry producers continue to adjust, innovate and collaborate accordingly to maintain a viable industry in the state.
“We’re not price makers, we’re price takers in our industry. All of the input costs fluctuate. Feed is our largest input cost and the second would be labor,” said Sandra Lausecker, Ohio Poultry Association (OPA) president. “We adjust as the economics need adjusting.”
The ups and downs of egg prices and input costs, challenges with finding labor and concerns with bird health were all topics of discussion at the OPA annual meeting and Celebration Banquet in September. The ever-present risk of potentially devastating high path avian influenza (HPAI) and issues with coryza, a potentially fatal poultry respiratory disease, continue to be top of mind for Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey producers.
“In 2023, OPA led the charge to continue an industry-wide effort to prevent HPAI and stop the spread of coryza. While we have worked together to strengthen biosecurity protocols and protect our livelihood, our work is ongoing, and this remains a key priority,” Lausecker said. “Back in 2015 was really the first time there was a big HPAI outbreak in our industry and last year was the biggest yet for our industry in an ongoing challenge. It’s a threat to our industry at all times because it’s coming from migratory birds. It’s a virus. It’s mutating and it’s constantly a threat, so we all have to take our biosecurity very seriously in our industry. We’re very proud of all the different producers in our state and how we’ve collaborated to protect our chickens and turkeys.”
Lausecker is president and CEO of NaturePure with farms in Union and Logan counties and has been hard at work caring for the health of her own birds. She is the second generation to run the family-owned and operated USDA Certified Organic cage-free and free-range farms. She is also co-founder of Outward Farms, an innovative retail brand for the specialty egg market.
“Our state veterinarian works with us to help protect the outdoor access birds from HPAI, especially when there’s a bigger threat going on in the industry. We’re pretty fortunate here in Ohio with everyone working together through this. OPA, along with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and a lot of other partners within the industry, and with the laboratories, really have helped us overcome this and monitor things as best as possible,” Lausecker said. “Every farm does things differently. On our farm, we are organic egg producers — that’s all we produce. The three main components of that are an organic diet, a cage-free environment and access to the outdoors — those are the requirements under the national organic program through USDA. During the times of the year where we see a lot of activity and a higher risk of HPAI outbreaks, we do work with the state veterinarian to see if we can get an exemption from the outdoor access rule to keep the birds in for a short period of time for their protection. Of course, we want to limit time indoors as much as possible, but in terms of biosecurity we also need to do all the measures that we’re asked to do within the industry. We also follow the National Poultry Improvement Plan to protect our birds.”
Along with these continually evolving challenges with bird health, the OPA is also helping producers navigate unprecedented difficulty with finding and retaining a workforce.
“Labor is an ongoing issue in our industry,” Lausecker said. “The Ohio Poultry Association is working through a workforce development program trying to educate more people about our industry, what job opportunities there are and all the expertise that we really need in order to continue to operate our farms. And then of course individually all of us producers are doing that on our own farms as well.”
Along with workforce development, OPA continued to target consumer marketing, build strategic partnerships and prioritize youth education. Part of these efforts included a new Devilishly Good food stand at the Ohio State Fair offering a wide array of unique deviled egg flavors including the 2023 featured flavor: cotton candy. Between in-person contact at the fair and broad media coverage of the food stand, over 260 million people were reached with the effort. OPA also had a chick hatching unit at the Ohio State Fair and an interactive game highlighting the egg production process.
“Our poultry industry has a strong history, and it’s exciting to see change and growth made possible by our leadership, members, partners, and allied industry members,” Lausecker said. “Through our dedication to each other and our industry, we’ve been able to assure our consumers that Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey products are a safe, affordable and wholesome protein source for their families.”
Lausecker helped to present the OPA 2023 awards recipients during the Celebration Banquet. This year, awards were presented to two organizations who have greatly contributed to Ohio’s egg, chicken and turkey industry and implemented significant sustainability practices on their farms.
“We are excited to introduce a new award to celebrate farmer members who have made a positive impact on the communities they live and work in,” said Jim Chakeres, OPA executive vice president. “The Green Feather Award recognizes the efforts of an organization that has not only maintained proper environmental responsibility, animal welfare, and community engagement, but also implemented innovative and sustainable practices.”
Recipients of a Green Feather Award at the annual OPA Banquet and Industry Celebration included:
Trillium Farms, Hartford
Through their practices, Trillium Farms has contributed to a greener future for the poultry industry. Established in 2011, Trillium Farms is located in central Ohio and produces approximately 3.65 billion eggs each year. In addition to being a national egg producer, they are recognized for their innovation and expertise in sustainability. Overall, the organization has worked with local soil and water conservation agencies, enhanced feed efficiency and waste reduction, made progressive modifications to hen housing systems to reduce energy consumption, and implemented diverse manure management. From 2021 to 2022, Trillium Farms reduced water usage from egg processing by 36%. The team also recently released a comprehensive sustainability report, which further details their work within this sphere.
Cooper Farms, Fort Recovery
Located in northwest Ohio, Cooper Farms is a family-owned and operated enterprise that was established in 1938. The organization has demonstrated their passion for protecting the environment by recycling, conserving energy and water, minimizing waste, and adopting environmentally responsible management strategies. In addition to being a member of the H2Ohio Program, which works to protect Ohio’s waterways, approximately 20% of Cooper Farms’ electricity needs are fulfilled by renewable sources. Since 2011, three wind turbines have supplied about 75% of power to their Cooked Meats Plant. The farm’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report highlights their continuous work toward improving environmental stewardship, animal care, community involvement, and food innovation.