Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Unhappy US Chicken Farmers

US chicken farmers in the Delmarva Peninsula, the highest concentration of chicken farming in the US, are very unhappy.

The 1998 survey of US chicken farmers is available here.  I assume that most contract growers in other parts of the US are equally unhappy, but we have no proof of that yet.

Why then, does this 1998 survey by Dr. Tom Ilvento, Professor at the Food and Resource Economics Dept. of University of Delaware say that 73% of them are satisfied?

Here is Dr. Ilvento's data in graph form.  I added the red text for adding clarity.

The vote was widely dispersed, but if you add up all those farmers who are on the "Agree" side, in various strengths, you do get a total of 73%.

However, this discounts the degree of strength for that agreement.

Obviously, if everybody said, "Strongly Agree", you can't get any better than that, so we can call that 100% satisfied.  Similarly, if everybody said "Strongly dis-satisfied", that would be -100%, or 100% Dis-Satisfied.

When couples get divorced or separated, they don't go from "love" to "hate" (at least not till after the lawyers get involved), they usually go from "love" to "I don't care anymore, I feel numb towards you".  That indifference score would be somewhere between "Somewhat Agree" and "Somewhat Disagree", and is the true 0%.

Figure 2: Weighted Survey Results
In surveys about feelings, same as in how our senses work (ie. taste, touch, sight, hearing, smell, time, etc.), we work on a logarithmic basis, not linear.  For example, decidels for sound.  Another example is when a child is made to wait for a candy, a 5 minute wait isn't 5 times as difficult as a 1 minute wait, it is perceived as about 16 times more difficult, and a 10 minute wait is perceived at about 512 times more difficult than a 1 minute wait.  Therefore there should be some weighting applied to these 6 scoring levels for satisfaction.

When we do that, we get the following data in spreadsheet format.  When we add up the weighted scores (0% is "I don't care indifference", 100% is "Strongly Agree"), we get a weighted score of just 22.65% satisfaction.

This is certainly totally different than the 73% agree that Dr. Ilvento is pushing out there.   Could that be related to the funding source of the survey, Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., Delaware Poultry Improvement Association, the Maryland Farm Bureau, and the University of Delaware Cooperative Extension?  I should say that Dr. Ilvento is using a typical method employed by many who conduct surveys, but that doesn't make it useful, correct, or avoid mis-leading the public.

I have sent this commentary to Dr. Ilvento, and we will see what he says.

Here we are, 16 years after this survey.  Did the mega corp chicken processors like Tyson et al. listen to their chicken growers?  Has anything changed, better or worse?  The NPR radio documentary (see Blog posting The US Chicken System) dated Feb. 20, 2014 says not much has changed.  If you have some facts or commentary on the glacial rate of improvement for US chicken farmers, type in your comments below.  Everybody wants to know, and better understand.

In the meantime, we can try to better understand the struggles faced by those chicken farmers to our South.  That is why Small Flockers is not suggesting the US system for use in Canada.  We can do better than that.

If Canada blindly adopted the US system for producing chicken, we'd be going from the frying pan, right into the fire.

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