Hundreds of farmers, chicken company employees, and allies of the Delmarva Peninsula’s chicken community gathered on April 18 in Salisbury, Md., for the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. (DPI) Booster Banquet—the annual dinner for the 1,800-member trade association. During its 61st banquet, DPI recognized 11 outstanding chicken growers and four individuals for their work on behalf of the chicken industry. 

J. Frank Gordy, Sr. Delmarva Distinguished Citizen Award

The J. Frank Gordy, Sr. Delmarva Distinguished Citizen Award—DPI’s highest honor—was presented to Paul Downes of Sussex County, Del. Downes is the CEO and President of Mountaire Farms, where he has worked for 34 years. Under his leadership, Mountaire has grown to become the seventh largest chicken company in America, and the nation’s largest private label chicken company.

Downes started his career in Delmarva’s poultry industry as a flock supervisor before working his way up to leadership positions. On a national level, he serves on the National Chicken Council’s board of directors.  

With him at the helm, Mountaire demonstrates its willingness to boost the community by feeding thousands of families at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter events, as well as year-round donations to food banks. When wildfires struck North Carolina in 2016, the state’s governor called on Mountaire seeking emergency food donations for firefighters and the company responded immediately with assistance.

Edward H. Ralph DPI Medal of Achievement

The Edward H. Ralph DPI Medal of Achievement was presented to Dave Lovell of Melfa, Va.  The award goes to a non-elected person for outstanding service on behalf of Delmarva’s chicken industry.

Lovell, who served on DPI’s board of directors, has been raising chickens since 1991, and he owns eight chicken houses. He has been an innovator in putting environmentally friendly features into practice on his farm and has been deeply involved in sustainability issues that affect the entire industry. He is an active member of the Eastern Shore Soil and Water Conservation District and has worked with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to promote understanding of the chicken industry.

Lovell also participates in the Delmarva Land & Litter Challenge, a private-sector group working to find new ways to use chicken litter while preserving the chicken industry and improving water quality in the Chesapeake Bay.  

DPI Medal of Achievement

The DPI Medal of Achievement for an elected official was awarded to Delaware State Senator Gerald Hocker of Sussex County. Sen. Hocker has been a voice for the business community in the Delaware legislature since he was first elected in 2002. He championed a 2014 bill that would have required state agencies to document regulatory effects and costs that new regulations would impose. Last year, he was instrumental in stopping the state from enacting onerous and potentially industry-stopping storm water management rules.

Sen. Hocker is also a small business owner, with five businesses that employ more than 200 people. He may not directly participate in the chicken business, but as a grocer he sells a lot of chicken. His southeastern Sussex County senate district is one of the most densely concentrated chicken farm areas in the state and the well-being of the chicken industry matters to him a great deal.

Special citation

A final special citation in recognition of accomplishments was awarded posthumously to Bill Brown, a longtime chicken grower and University of Delaware Extension poultry agent, who died in an accident on his farm in April 2016. Brown was an exceptional educator, who worked to improve all segments of the chicken industry and was always willing to share his knowledge with people unfamiliar with the industry. After his death, his colleagues have carried on his work by reinforcing the importance of taking safety precautions on farms at all times.

Outstanding chicken growers

Additionally, DPI recognized 11 outstanding chicken growers, selected by their companies from Delmarva’s more than 1,600 poultry growers.

This year’s recipients are:

  • Choudry Asif – Perdue Farms
  • Pat Cahall – Perdue Farms
  • Donald Howard – Tyson Foods
  • Dave Lovell – Perdue Farms
  • Sherman & Patty Jones – Mountaire Farms of Delmarva
  • Ryan Marshall – Mountaire Farms of Delaware
  • Burton & Sue Ockels – Amick Farms
  • Dale Phillips – Allen Harim
  • Chittle Saylor Jr. – Allen Harim
  • Ruby West – Mountaire Farms of Delmarva
  • Terry & Diana Woodward – Mountaire Farms