Opportunities for Duck Production

Seen from a global perspective and in comparison to chickens, ducks are not an important source of food, but the duck is an important provider of both meat and eggs in Asia and particularly China, according to Richard Bird. Jackie Linden, editor of ThePoultrySite, reports on his prediction that the growth of Chinese duck production will soon impact the industry and eating habits in western countries.
calendar icon 23 June 2010
clock icon 5 minute read

The 'World of Waterfowl' was the title taken by Richard Bird, managing director of Cherry Valley Farms Ltd, for his thought-provoking presentation for the Temperton Fellowship, the 18th in a series of annual events organised by Harper Adams University College and Peel Holroyd in London.

"The latest FAO statistics put the world's duck meat production in 2008 at 3.78 million tonnes," said Mr Bird, adding that Asia accounts for 82.5 per cent of world output and China alone for 66 per cent of reported production. Europe produces 12 per cent of the global output, of which 54 per cent comes from France.

However, duck production may be much higher in China than the FAO suggests, possibly because that organisation counts only commercial production. Rather than the FAO figure of two billion ducks, Mr Bird estimates the figure at 3.3 billion this year, rising to 4.2 billion birds by 2015.

"Duck production is still – wrongly – perceived as a backyard, pond-based industry"
Richard Bird

"However, the UK's roles in duck meat production should not be underestimated. It supplies the genetic material to produce two-thirds of the world total," he added.

The worldwide duck market will continue to grow at a rate in excess of three per cent per annum, driven by expansion of the industry in China and Asia. Duck meat consumption in China will grow in line with economic growth and a rapidly increasing population, said Mr Bird. He added that the Chinese government is encouraging indoor, intensive production methods to reduce the risk of highly pathogenic avian influenza, which is carried by ducks that usually show no symptoms of infection.

Subject to the EU's position on trade in cooked poultry and duck meat, Mr Bird expects China's duck industry to take an increasing share of the European market, initially at the expense of Thailand and, in the longer term, at the expense of European producers unless they up their game.

Comparing duck production in China with Europe, for example, Mr Bird identified China's main advantages as being much lower costs of production (especially labour costs), the many modern buildings and the recovery of all by-products of processing, including feathers, which are valued as highly as the prime meat cuts.

Recently, three Chinese processing plants have been authorised for the production of cooked duck meat products to be exported to the European Union, and others are likely to follow, Mr Bird believes. He made the point that imports of cheap duck meat from China could actually improve the price position of the product and spark a significant increase in consumption, which is generally low outside China. However, this may come at a cost to jobs in the European industry, he suggested.

Other countries in the world – notably the US and Australia, where duck meat consumption is very low – may come under pressure from China to open their doors to cooked meat imports, again helping to boost awareness of duck meat products as well as global demand.

Mr Bird predicts that European producers will have to specialise to survive the challenge from China. Although it has been affected by the recession, the fresh trade will increase and expand as the economy improves and this is an area in which Europe can excel, he suggests.

Worldwide, duck production is expected to continue to intensify – not only, as in China, to reduce the risks of bird flu – but also in order to reduce pollution and to realise the benefits from improved genetics. Progress in performance is just as impressive over the years as that of the chicken in terms of bodyweight, weight-adjusted feed conversion, weight-adjusted age at market weight and egg production.

However, Mr Bird said that duck breeding companies need to narrow the gap between ducks and chickens in term of feed conversion ratio if duck products are to compete in economic terms, as he expects feed prices to rise again in the near future and to remain high.

There exists a real opportunity for the duck industry to expand in other areas of the world, particularly the Americas and Africa, according to Mr Bird, because of the hardy nature of the bird and its ability to support rural populations in developing countries.

Further Reading

- You can find out more about duck production statistics worldwide by clicking here.

June 2010
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