National Geographic : 1970 Feb
Behind us five more combines in echelon chewed a widening swath through the golden grain. Davis is a custom combiner, working on contract for wheat growers (pages 148-51). "I started with one combine. Now I have six. Growers keep increasing their acreage, and so I have to expand." This trend to bigness and specialization finds no sharper examples than in the Nation's poul try industry. I dug out part of the story in the red-clay hills of Georgia, and part from southern California's citrus-dotted slopes. "Twenty years ago broilers sold for 65 cents a pound, and fried chicken was a treat for Sunday dinner," Ralph D. Mobley said in a soft Georgia accent. "Most farms had a little flock that helped provide the farmwife with butter-and-egg money. Now chicken is cheaper than hamburger, and coops on the average farm are empty be cause the farmwife can buy dressed birds in the supermarket for less than it would cost her to raise them herself. The reason? Research and greater efficiency in the broiler business." Tenth of a Cent Spells Profit or Loss Mr. Mobley has watched those changes come tumbling. He is director of broiler and hatchery operations for the Cotton Producers Associa tion, a cooperative based in Atlanta, Georgia. It is a major producer of broilers in the state which leads all the rest of the U. S. in this field. "It used to take 14 weeks of growing time, plus 4'/2 pounds of feed for each pound of weight gained, to raise a chick to broiler size," Mr. Mobley said. "Nowadays the average is 8 weeks and 2 pounds. Part of the improvement comes from genetic development of a breastier, meatier, tastier bird. Part comes from better feeding scientists know more about chicken nutrition than they do about that of humans." And he showed me a page-long list of the in gredients in a broiler formula, everything from alfalfa meal to xanthophyll-a plant compound used to give chicken skin a pleasing yellow tinge. Computers, he explained, figure the items on a cost-per-nutritional-element basis. They help decide whether to substitute, say, fish meal from Peru if the price of domestic meat and bone scrap goes up a mere dollar a ton. Such factors can be of vital importance, since a tenth of a cent per pound in the market price of broilers can mean the difference between profit and loss. "The producer also has to pay attention to little things like how full the automatic feed troughs are kept," added Dr. Donald H. Sher wood, chief scientist at the cooperative's research farm in Talmo, Georgia. "The birds may scatter 158 From field to freezer-fast! Dislodged by a workman's rake (right), peas fresh from the field slide down sloping wagon sides onto a conveyor belt at Seabrook Farms in New Jersey. Flowing into a processing plant, the green flood will swirl through cleanings and cullings to emerge in only 20 minutes, quick-frozen for the table at the moment of prime ripeness. From a hailstorm of frozen peas, an inspector scoops a sample to scrutinize for color and maturity (below). Vegetables and fruits, unlike meats, posed a problem to early processors by deteriorating even when frozen. In the 1920's came the discovery that a brief KODACHROMES ( N.G.S. dunking in hot water inactivates quality damaging enzymes that defy subzero temperatures. Faithfully preserving the food's flavor, appearance, and nutriments, quick-freezing wrought one of the early innovations of the agricultural revolution.