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Commodity Poultry Profile

By Marsha Laux, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, mlaux@iastate.edu.

Updated by Malinda Geisler, content specialist, AgMRC, Iowa State University, May 2012.


The United States is the world’s largest producer and the second largest exporter of poultry meat according to the Economic Research Service (ERS) of USDA. The total farm value of U.S. poultry production in 2011 was $35.6 billion, up 3 percent from 2009. Of that total farm value, broiler production accounted for $23.2 billion, eggs for nearly $7.4 billion, turkey for nearly $5 billion and other chicken for $81.3 million (NASS). Of the combined total of U.S. poultry production in 2011, 65 percent was broiler meat, 21 percent was eggs, 14 percent was turkey meat and less than 1 percent was other chicken meat.


The United States led the world in broiler production with 49.7 billion pounds in live weight in 2011. The value of broilers produced that year was $23.2 billion. 

U.S. broiler production is more highly concentrated in a region stretching from Delaware, south along the Atlantic coast to Georgia, then westward through Alabama, Mississippi and Arkansas. The top three states are Georgia, which produced nearly 1.4 billion birds in 2011, Arkansas and Alabama, which each produced more than 1 million birds. Other major broiler-producing states include (in order): North Carolina, Mississippi, Texas, Maryland and Kentucky.  

Other world leaders in broiler production for 2011 were China with 13.2 million metric tons (MT), Brazil with 12.9 million MT and the European Union (EU) with 9.4 million MT. Consumption of broiler products ranked in order as follows: the United States with 13.6 million MT consumed for 2011, China with 13 million MT, Brazil with 9.6 million MT and the EU with 9.1 million MT.


Consumption of poultry meat is considerably higher than either beef or pork, but less than total red meat consumption. Per capita consumption of poultry steadily increased from 47.3 pounds per capita in 1975 to 69.4 pounds per capita in 2009. Of that amount, 55.5 pounds consisted of broiler meat, 13.3 pounds was turkey and 0.6 pound was other poultry. Increased poultry demand was driven by nutritional concerns about fat and cholesterol levels in beef and also due to a lack of convenience in preparation of beef. Poultry products responded to consumer demands by providing brand-name, value-added products processed for consumers’ convenience and products for use in foodservice.

Poultry and eggs products are expected to have higher domestic and foreign demand. Consumers demanding low-cost, healthy and convenient meat products will continue to drive poultry increased production.


According to the ERS, poultry is the largest meat export flow from the United States in volume. Also, the United States is the world’s largest exporter of broilers and turkey products. In 2010, the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) reported that broiler exports totaled 3.2 million MT and were valued at $3.6 billion. The top three countries based on export value were Mexico, Canada and Russia. The top three countries based on quantity purchased were Mexico, Hong Kong and Russia.  

U.S. turkey exports in 2011 totaled 319,015 MT and were valued at $599.5 million. Mexico was the top buyer.

While U.S. consumers value white poultry meat, consumers in other countries place a premium on dark meat. This dark meat preference by other countries creates a favorable situation for the U.S. producers.


While negligible, the United States does import some poultry and poultry products. According to the FAS, broiler imports in 2011 were 49,000 MT, with most of it coming from Canada.


The U.S. poultry industry is characterized by a majority of vertically integrated systems. Vertical integration is characterized by contracts and common ownership of production and processing. The 1950s saw expansion of vertical integration and by 1977, 85 percent of broilers, turkeys and eggs were in vertically integrated systems. In 2003, more than 90 percent of the poultry in the United States was vertically integrated.

The vertical integration has resulted in improved production efficiencies in the poultry industry. It also has benefited from consumer’s interest in lower fat sources of protein and has responded to the demand for more convenient products. The industry has continually provided increased brand name, processed products. The availability of value-added products and the other industry changes have resulted in large supplies of poultry products that were relatively low-priced meat sources.

The poultry firms of the United States are competing in a global marketplace. The five largest U.S. poultry firms are as follows:

Rank Poultry Firm

Ready-to-Cook Pounds,

Millions per Week, 2011

1 Tyson Foods, Inc. 165.9
2 Pilgrim's Corp. 130.8
3 Sanderson Farms 54.0
4 Perdue Farms (broilers) 53.5
5 Wayne Farms LLC 37.4


Emerging Developments and Issues to Follow

Diseases in poultry flocks have caused economic losses, in addition to having harmed international trade. Two harmful diseases to poultry are avian influenza and Exotic Newcastle Disease (END). END produces significant sudden death loss in poultry flocks and involves quarantine procedures. END does not affect humans; chickens and eggs are safe to eat. However, the disease can spread rapidly and has extensive flock losses.

In additional to diseases, another factor creating uncertainties in the poultry industry is the new animal health welfare guidelines for poultry and egg producers. Production capacity will be an issue that will be affected, as will other factors related to the flock certification process. Environmental and political concerns have had an impact on the poultry industry. Restrictions on the placement of livestock production facilities and limitations surrounding the disposal or usage of poultry litter have also been issues of concern for poultry producers.

Additionally, convenience is an important factor when consumers make food purchases. The trend to eat more prepared and processed foods and the trend to eat more meals away from home is a trend to monitor in the food industry. Value-added poultry products that cater to the ready-to-cook, heat-and-serve or ready-to-eat markets are expected to see continued growth. Egg products and eggs for use in processed and prepared food items are also expected to experience continued growth.


The Economic Organization of U.S. Broiler Production, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2008.

Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, ERS, USDA.

Global Ag Trade System, Foreign Ag Service (FAS), USDA.

Livestock and Meat Trade Data: Chickens, turkeys, and eggs, ERS, USDA, 2010.

Meat, Livestock, Poultry, and Eggs Analysis, FAS, USDA - This Web page links to the semi-annual Livestock and Poultry: World Markets and Trade publication.

Poultry and Eggs Briefing Room, ERS, USDA.

Poultry - Production and Value Summary, NASS, USDA, 2011.

World's Top Poultry Companies, WATTAgNet.

Profile created October 2003 and updated May 2012. Links checked December 2013.


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