Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Delmarva chicken industry remains under attack

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By Bill Satterfield

Special to Poultry Times

GEORGETOWN, Del. — The latest attack on Delmarva’s chicken industry and its farm families comes from a coalition of groups in the environmental industry that seeks to put a moratorium on chicken house construction, purportedly to improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, these groups want a halt in chicken house construction in Maryland until 2024, the year in which a 2015 state regulation to limit phosphorus applications to certain farm fields fully is implemented.

This is a ridiculous approach, but not entirely unexpected from groups that have a history of hostility to the chicken industry and our farm families that grow chickens. Led by the Environmental Integrity Project, consisting of former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency attorneys, and aided by the Assateague Coastkeeper (remember its misguided federal Clean Water Act lawsuit a few years ago against a Maryland farm family and Perdue Farms?), Johns Hopkins University (a longtime critic of our food production system) and Food and Water Watch, among others, this coalition is distraught that chicken production on Delmarva has grown. But by how much? By weight of birds produced, by about 1 percent annually over the last 20 years while the annual growth in the number of birds is about 0.2 percent per year. Hardly disturbing numbers.

These groups claim there are huge increases in the amount of manure produced, but they fail to recognize the tremendous improvements in feed efficiency and better use of the nutrients in the feed, thus leading to fewer nutrients in the manure they are so concerned about. Even the once self-proclaimed “farm friendly” Chesapeake Bay Foundation has joined the chorus, writing “The rapid growth of the chicken industry on the Delmarva Peninsula is a problem the states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must address.  In Maryland, a moratorium on new houses may be imperative if the state doesn’t account for and address pollution coming from these new houses.”

In the “study” More Phosphorus, Less Monitoring, the opponents of the chicken industry fail to account for the retirement of old houses. They just cite the net increase in chicken house construction and they sound the alarm. They also fail to note that as with any industry, updated and modern facilities are required to keep businesses competitive, including farm family-owned chicken farms. They simply want the Delmarva chicken industry to disappear. They fail to note that new chicken houses include the latest technology and have landscape designs and environmental protection systems that exceed existing chicken housing. Water quality improvements are likely to be enhanced with the new chicken houses and their stormwater management plans.

They fail to recognize that under the state of Maryland’s Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations program that covers most of the state’s chicken houses and especially newly constructed ones, chicken houses, through this federally-approved U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permit system, are allowed zero discharge of nutrients to waters of the state except for discharges during a 24-hour, 25 year storm, which is about 6 inches of rain in a 24 hour period. So under normal weather conditions, there will be no discharges of nutrients to the waters of the state from the hundreds of chicken houses covered by the state permit.

After several years of economic sluggishness and regulatory hurdles, chicken house construction throughout Delmarva is catching up to the more normal level. For several years until last year, only a handful of chicken houses were built on Delmarva. Now, the pent-up demand for new houses is resulting in new construction and our critics are hyperventilating over that return to normalcy.

The report, though focused on the chicken industry and chicken manure, says nothing about the growth of the human being population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed and the growth of houses, businesses and impervious surfaces that contribute to water pollution. There is no call for a moratorium on those activities.

Delmarva’s chicken industry has examined more than 70 proposed technologies that seek to do something with the manure other than direct farmland application as a locally produced organic fertilizer. For a variety of reasons, there are no commercially operating alternative use facilities on Delmarva, except the Perdue AgriRecycle plant in southern Delaware. More are being examined and we hope some will be in operation in the coming years.

Another piece of silliness from a spokesman for the Environmental Integrity Project suggests that the Delmarva chicken companies should be forced to pay for State of Maryland water quality monitoring stations that have been closed because of reductions in federal aid. Our chicken companies do not own the manure that allegedly is polluting the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, do not own the farmland on which manure is applied, and may not have any company facilities in the watersheds in which the monitoring will be done. Talk about a stretch to get at the chicken companies!!!

Delmarva’s chicken growers and farm families that handle chicken manure are making progress in water quality protection and more progress will be made. A moratorium on chicken house construction will not be part of the solution.

Opponents of the chicken industry who favor the moratorium on chicken house construction until 2024 are hoping that by killing construction they will kill the chicken industry. Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. and our members are working to make sure that does not happen. If you do not operate in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, be thankful.  However, some of this nonsense may be coming your way. Be vigilant.

Bill Satterfield is executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. with offices in Georgetown, Del.

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