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.
Statistics on the chicken economy compiled by Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI), the nonprofit trade association, should put to rest worries about the industry “overbuilding” new chicken houses. The data, supplied by the five poultry companies that operate on Maryland's Eastern Shore, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and in Delaware, show total chicken house capacity declined 0.5 percent 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. 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 for Delmarva chicken farmers and companies. That commitment to raising chickens efficiently and responsibly led to a 4 percent increase in the total pounds of chicken produced on Delmarva in 2016, with a total of 4.1 billion pounds of "Delmarvalous" chicken making it to market.
To produce those chickens, Delmarva's poultry industry used 85.4 million bushels of corn, 35.5 million bushels of soybeans and 1.7 million bushels of wheat. The industry's total feed bill topped $997 million in 2016, down 1.8 percent 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.
Payments by chicken companies to contract growers on family farms rose 6 percent 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 percent, to $663 million.
"Nearly every business on Delmarva—including small businesses —is positively affected by the chicken industry," said Bill Satterfield, DPI's executive director. "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."