Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Poultry Training Something to Cluck About

Local chicken farmers are learning U.S. techniques in preparation for the day when homegrown birds replace the so-called U.S. Bush legs that have been flooding local markets since the early 1990s.

Hoping to bring that day nearer, the Elinar-Broiler plant, located in the Naro-Fominsk district of the Moscow region and the only poultry joint venture with the United States, opened a training center this week for 16 local professionals.

The plant plans to run 15 such weeklong courses over the next 15 months.

Calling itself a model farm for U.S. poultry technologies, Elinar now has the facilities to show off its Western-style poultry farming, updated equipment and genetically advanced chicks.

However, it was clear the organizers were not thinking the training program would spell the end of local need for U.S. farm produce.

Financing for the training center comes primarily from the U.S. Grains Council, which promotes export markets for U.S. grain. It selected this weeks' trainees, most of whom came from grain-deficient farms located in the northwest of the country. Such farms have to buy feed for their chickens, making the trainees potential customers of the council.

The council also hired a U.S. geneticist and a nutritionist to lecture on topics such as feeding processes, sanitary control and the economics of farm management.

Demonstrating multimillion-dollar equipment to a cash-starved industry might seem pointless, although the trainees said they learned something just by watching alternative ways of raising chickens.

"I could say, 'Even if I could buy this stuff, what am I going to do with it?'" said Valentina Dudukalo, a trainee from the Verkhnevolzhskaya Plant in the Tver region, as she inspected a newly outfitted Elinar chicken house. "But it's not just the expensive equipment."

The poultry industry badly needs new ideas, wherever they come from. Output fell in the last decade, as state subsidies disappeared, feed prices skyrocketed and farms found themselves spending more on nonproduction areas such as electricity and gas. Chicken houses across the country stand empty and stripped of all valuable materials.

Since 1995 poultry meat output went from over 850,000 tons to about 640,000 tons in 1999. In 1997, it dipped by 40 percent to 200,000 tons, according to Poultry International magazine.

Imports took up the slack, accounting for well over half of local per capita consumption throughout the 1990s. U.S. imports make up almost 80 percent of that, mostly with Bush legs, or dark-meat leg quarters that American consumers avoid.

The local industry grumbled and suffered as the cheaper, better-looking imports fill the markets.

However, from 1998 to 1999, U.S. chicken imports fell by more than 500,000 tons to 270,000 tons as purchasing power plummeted after the August 1998 ruble devaluation, said Albert Davleyev, director of the USA Poultry and Egg Export Council, or USAPEEC.

The State Customs Committee says illegal imports account for half of all shipments. In an effort to combat this, the committee in April banned overland shipments f thoroughfares mainly used by the U.S. exporters.

Elinar's general director, Ervin Burkholder, said the ban might raise costs to consumers, but will undoubtedly aid local producers.

Imports hurt the local industry, but also gave it a badly needed stimulus to change its way and seek new ideas, said Henk De Jager, the Russian consultant for the Cobb Breeding Co., which began operations in St. Petersburg this January.

While lowering production costs is the first question on the domestic agenda, genetics is the second. Local chickens are skinnier as a result of scientific breeding being ignored in favor of Soviet ideology in the mid-1900s, said Paul Segal, a geneticist from Virginia. He said this country is a decade behind in chicken breeding.

Trainees did not want to know about such sophisticated technology as cloning, but what practical steps they could take right now, Segal said.

The Elinar-Broiler plant was established in September 1999 as a 50:50 venture between the USAPEEC International Poultry Development Program and local firm Elinar. The U.S. partner has invested $10 million in it while Elinar gave an equivalent contribution in facilities and land.

The plant produces 70,000 to 80,000 broilers a week, selling the majority to Moscow supermarkets. By December the figure should hit 130,000, with sigfull output f 250,000 broilers a week f for next year. It targets the upper-end Moscow consumer who considers quality over price, Davleyev said.