Feed Bites

Reflecting with John Starkey

Written by: Sarah Novak   |   August 31, 2023


Continuing my blog series on industry titans, here’s another mover and shaker: John Starkey. John has been the president of the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association (USPOULTRY) for the last 16 years, after serving as USPOULTRY’s vice president of environmental programs for seven years. Prior to that, he worked a number of years in the poultry industry for Gold Kist and Hudson Foods, where he served as director of environmental affairs. I really got to know John through the American Feed Industry Association’s partnership with USPOULTRY on the International Production & Processing Expo (IPPE). Below is our conversation.

Q: As you are nearing retirement, what is your favorite accomplishment of your career?

Starkey:  We conducted a one-time capital campaign for our U.S. Poultry & Egg Harold E. Ford Foundation after the recession of 2008-09 almost halved its corpus. We use the earnings from the Foundation’s corpus to fund student recruiting and about half of our research program, which are truly critical needs for our organization. We planned the campaign in 2010-11 and conducted the campaign from 2012-15. What was so rewarding about it was not only the number of companies, but especially the number of individuals, who stepped forward to support the mission of the foundation. We raised over $11 million, more than twice our original goal of $5 million. But the personal visits, volunteers, donors, stories and relationships formed during this time are what made the campaign so special to me.

Q: IPPE provides important services to the poultry, meat and animal food industries. How has the event changed since USPOULTRY, AFIA and the North American Meat Institute (NAMI) joined efforts to implement IPPE?

Starkey: I have to give credit to my predecessor, Don Dalton, and Charlie Olentine, who formerly managed the show for us, with having the vision to see that “vertical” tradeshows would become increasingly challenged, thus forming the first partnership with the AFIA leadership to conduct the International Poultry Expo/International Feed Expo, starting in 2007. Then, in 2012, a similar opportunity arose to bring the American Meat Institute, now NAMI, in as a partner to further broaden the base and reach into a renamed show in 2013—IPPE.

You know, Aristotle is credited with first saying, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts.” That saying perfectly describes what happened with IPPE when all three of our organizations came together under one umbrella.

Each of our organizations had shared exhibitors who clearly were excited by the combination. But what really drove IPPE’s subsequent success was our three association’s cumulative ability to draw additional exhibitors and attendees to a much broader, comprehensive event.

Q: What has changed in the poultry and egg industry since you started your career with Gold Kist in 1982?

Starkey: It might be easier to describe what hasn’t changed since I joined Gold Kist back in 1982! Back then, we thought a 5 lb. bird was huge! And when I started with Gold Kist, the United States processed about 4 billion broilers annually, representing about 17 billion pounds. In 2021, even with the impact of COVID-19, The United States produced over 9 billion birds, representing 59 billion pounds.

Back when I started, we thought “further processing” meant to cut a bird up to put in a tray pack! So, everything from genetics and housing systems, to all kinds of automation and robotics, to producing a vast array of finished products, has changed. In many ways, I was along for the ride as the industry grew up and matured, and we transitioned from poultry companies to food companies.

Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge that the poultry and egg industry will face in the future? 

Starkey: People – without a doubt. All types of people, from people on the processing or packing lines, to supervisors or managers to run those operations, to technicians, accountants, engineers, scientists and veterinarians, to sales and marketing to business managers. We have had—even pre-pandemic—a people shortage in our industry for the last few decades. And while automation, robotics, artificial intelligence and other new technologies have and will continue to help, each of these technologies creates a need for highly skilled staff to manage and maintain. So, it’s a challenge that isn’t going away any time soon.

Q: One of USPOULTRY’s important programs is student education and getting people involved in the industry. What would you tell someone who is considering working in the poultry and egg industry?

Starkey: Referring back to the last question, and our need for people, I tell them the opportunities are endless! It doesn’t matter what your background is or your level of education. We have opportunities for everyone who is willing to work hard and work smart, to grow a job into a long-term, rewarding career. If you need more training or education, companies will invest in you—you just need to put your foot forward to grasp those opportunities. 

Q: What is the first thing you are going to do once you are fully retired? 

Starkey: Nancy and I share a passion for travel and have several international trips planned over the next few years. We also have a six-month-old granddaughter who lives in Delaware, so we’ll sure be traveling domestically as well!

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