A multimillion dollar grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will enable the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture and its partnering universities to conduct research on water efficiency in the poultry industry as well as other topics.
The $9.95 million grant will launch initiatives in research and education to explore the sustainability and use of water in poultry science on a number of fronts. Walter Bottje is the co-principle investigator of the grant and a poultry science professor at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville. Having submitted applications for grants in the past, he called getting the grant on the first submission a "huge surprise."
"Right now success rate on funding at a federal level is usually 5-10% especially at USDA and maybe up to 20% with some of the other agencies," Bottje said. The Division of Agriculture will partner with several institutions on the project, including Cornell University, Iowa State University, Mississippi State University and the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
One aspect the Division of Agriculture will focus on is examining the diets of chickens to find ways to reduce the amount of water they are producing in their waste.
"This can lead to additional health problems in birds, in poultry. We’re trying to figure out what are ways we could use to reduce that. So it does two things. It improves the housing environment and it potentially improves health and well-being of animals," Bottje said.
Another area of research within the grant concerns incorporating microalgae into a chicken’s diet. According to Bottje, said algae could increase the level of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in poultry.
"One of the collaborators at Cornell is a human nutritionist and our plan is, we’re going feed microalgae to chickens here, ship the meet up to Cornell and they’re going to put it into a human nutrition trial to see if indeed we could incorporate it in the diet and it goes from diet to the bird to meat to humans," Bottje said.
The hope is these findings and studies could lead to innovations and changes to the poultry industry in the future.
"We could be either developing a potential line of birds that could be sold to the industry. Or we could be saying ‘Here’s things that genetic companies could be testing to see if it matches up with their genetics and could that be used as a genetic marker or tool to aid in [the] selection of birds,'" Bottje said.
As climate change continues to change the farming industry, and companies are taking initiatives to look at their supply chain and to improve water use and their impact on the environment, Bottje believes studies on water sustainability could prove to be valuable.
"Agriculture is a huge utilizer of water throughout the world. There’s an indication that by 2050, there’s going to be a 30% increase in demand for water by agriculture and that includes crops, animals, all aspects of it," Bottje said.
Bottje believes the USDA is acknowledging the importance of water sustainability in the farming industry moving forward.
"As I read more and more about sustainability. It makes total sense that USDA has a major role in affecting how agriculture is moving forward with the latest advances and in the process of doing this.. it’s all part of the big picture of responding to climate change, water scarcity, nutrient management. There’s lots of different things that play a role in this," Bottje said.
Research is only one aspect of the grant. Another is the establishment of education programs, such as a summer student internship program and the development of a Masters program in Professional Studies in Sustainable Agriculture Systems.
While funding for the program was officially approved in September, Bottje believes the program will gain momentum and begin a lot of its studies in the new year. While the program is slated to last around five years, Bottje hopes they gather enough research and information to keep it going.
"Our goals are: let’s get some things that we can use and that the industry can use, publish some of the basic stuff, the applied stuff and then have this body of knowledge that instead of going five years and stopping, now we’ve got this momentum to keep it going," Bottje said,