Poultry production accounts for over half of Georgia’s total agricultural output, and is a vital component of Georgia’s economy. Georgia produces more broiler chickens than any state in the nation. According to the Georgia Poultry Federation:
- The poultry industry contributes over $18.4 billion to the Georgia economy each year
- 105 counties produce over $1 million worth of poultry products each year
- On an average day Georgia produces 26 million pounds of chicken and 9.2 million eggs
- The annual production from an average Georgia poultry farm could feed over 22,000 people per year!
Because of this massive production of poultry products, Georgia has been declared the “Poultry Capital of the World.”
While chickens had been raised in Georgia - primarily for eggs - since the early twentieth century, in the 1930s a man named Jesse Jewell was primarily responsible for the growth of the poultry industry in north Georgia, centered at that time in Hall County. Jewell offered many north Georgia farmers baby chicks and feed on credit. When the chicks were grown, his company would buy back the adult chickens - or broilers - at prices that would cover his costs and also give farmers a profit. Once Jewell convinced enough farmers to produce broilers, he opened his own processing plant. Growth of the poultry industry (like many others) was accelerated by World War II, as the government bought virtually all of the products produced by it to feed soldiers and others involved in the war effort. But the growth did not stop with the end of the war; in fact in continued throughout the rest of the twentieth century. In the 1950s, the number of farms producing primarily poultry rose from less than 100 to over 1000. Growth continued in the 1960s and 1970s as the popularity of chicken increased - both because of its nutritional value and because it was less expensive than beef. Finally in 1998 Georgia became the top broiler-producing state in the nation; Georgia also ranks sixth in egg production.
The poultry industry in Georgia consists of much more than just raising the chickens; all aspects of the industry are well represented in Georgia. Georgia is home to many chicken processing plants, hatcheries, and mills to produce chicken feed. Chicken waste is also a very effective and popular fertilizer for use by Georgia farmers. Georgia exports more than $308 million worth of poultry products each year, and the poultry industry has resulted in the immigration of many Latino workers into Georgia - growth of Latinos in Georgia grew by over 300% in the 1990s alone.
The nutritional value of poultry products promises a continuing growth in Georgia’s poultry industry. Chicken provides the most nutrients of all meats, but with the least number of calories. Chicken is naturally low in fat, and removing the skin reduces the already low fat content by nearly half. A 3-ounce serving of skinless, roasted chicken breast contains just over 100 calories, yet provides over half the recommended daily amount of protein. Chicken is also an economic value compared to most other meats. Plus it can be prepared in numerous, tasty manners. Because of all these factors, per-capita chicken consumption in the United States has doubled since 1978, and Georgia’s poultry production has tripled in that time to meet the demand. Poultry should remain a vital aspect of Georgia’s economy for the foreseeable future.