Delmarva’s chicken industry was a force for stability in 2016, keeping its bird capacity level and even slightly reducing the number of chicken houses in operation while maintaining the total chicken produced and supporting the region’s crop family farms with nearly $1 billion spent on feed ingredients.
Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. (DPI), a nonprofit trade association, said new statistics on the chicken economy should put to rest worries about the industry "overbuilding" new chicken houses.
The data, supplied to DPI by the five poultry companies that operate on the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia and in Delaware, show that total chicken house capacity declined 0.5% in 2016, from 123 million birds to 122.5 million. The number of chicken houses in operation also fell, from 4,840 at the beginning of 2016 to 4,700 houses in use at the end of the year.
According to DPI, the reason is simple: Many chicken growers are building modern, efficient chicken houses, replacing more numerous and smaller structures as they do so. “The overall effect, though, is in no way a runaway pace of growth in chicken house capacity, as some chicken critics agitating for a moratorium on new chicken house construction assert. In fact, the opposite is true, with a net reduction in 140 chicken houses seen last year.”
Family farms and chicken companies use a wide variety of production methods to provide consumers with choices in the type of chicken they buy for their households. Regular and comprehensive animal care training for farmers and their employees and ongoing monitoring of bird health and welfare are part of the high standards Delmarva chicken farmers and companies strive to meet, DPI said. “That commitment to raising chickens efficiently and responsibly led to a 4% increase in the total pounds of chicken produced on Delmarva in 2016, with a total of 4.1 billion lb. of ‘Delmarvalous’ chicken delivered to market.”
To produce those chickens, Delmarva’s poultry industry used 85.4 million bu. of corn, 35.5 million bu. of soybeans and 1.7 million bu. of wheat. The industry’s total feed bill topped $997 million in 2016, down 1.8% from the year before.
“Most locally grown corn and soybeans are used to feed Delmarva’s chickens. That means chicken industry dollars support Delaware, Maryland and Virginia family farms and the local economy many times over. A strong chicken industry that keeps cropland in production also provides an ecological benefit, since farmland produces less pollution per acre than developed land does,” DPI noted.
Payments by chicken companies to contract growers on family farms rose 6% in 2016, from $229 million to $243 million. Wages earned by the 14,500 people directly employed by the region’s five chicken companies also rose -- by 7.7%, to $663 million.
“Nearly every business on Delmarva – including small businesses – is positively affected by the chicken industry,” Bill Satterfield, DPI executive director, said. “These numbers reinforce just how important the chicken industry is to the region, and they show the industry growing at a calm, sustainable pace. An unwarranted clampdown on Delmarva’s chicken industry would result in widespread economic harm; it would endanger the livelihoods of farmers, chicken company employees and countless others, and it would represent a step back in terms of conservation by exposing more farmland to development pressure.”