Skirmishes prove battle continues (Editorial)

(Nov. 11, 2014) It is becoming more and more apparent — if it wasn’t already in capital letters — that the poultry industry on Delmarva is in the fight of, and for, its life.
Every farmer on the peninsula — poultry grower, corn and grain and soybean producer, and indeed every citizen who cherishes the region’s way of life — needs to sign on to defend it.
Those challenging the industry and seeking ultimately to ban it first from their neighborhoods, then from their counties and states and ultimately from the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, are now banding together in the cause.
Their mouthings in opposition reek of environmental fervor, of liberal governmental and political ideology, of rank agricultural ignorance and, in a most recent instance, of furious racism.
Let’s go back: The battle seemed to find renewed energy in the Hudson case, in which, as a you will recall, the Waterkeeper Alliance sought to punish a farm family and Perdue for an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act.
It failed but few observers believed that the battle was over.
A skirmish: Citizens protest plans by Allen Harim Foods Inc., one of five chicken integrators and processors serving Delmarva, to convert a former Vlasic pickle plant into a chicken processing facility.
Another skirmish: Citizens protest the development of a large cluster of poultry houses by an investor from across the Bay.
A major battle, ongoing — the attempt by the O’Malley administration in Maryland to implement a nutrient management plan that would limit the amount of poultry litter which can be used to fertilize crop land on the state’s Lower Shore.
That’s where the chickens are and the crops the farmers grow there feeds them.
Most recently — another major battle, ongoing — in which a rural neighborhood in Somerset County seems to be setting the table for a court challenge.
A poultry grower wants to add more houses on land he owns nearby.
Angry residents have enlisted the aid of the Waterkeeper Alliance and the Food and Water Watch to request a hearing before the county planning and zoning commission.
The commission has no authority to act in the matter because of the county’s right to farm protections but a record of the hearing could be useful in future legal challenges.
The grower is of Asian descent.
And racism has raised its ugly head in Facebook communications in advance of the planning and zoning hearing which was held last Thursday.
This is not a nickels and dimes game, this anti-chicken assault. There’s some big money is this pot.
According to new data, on the Delmarva Peninsula there are more than 15,000 direct chicken industry jobs — chicken company employees and the farm families that grow the chickens) — with annual wages and benefits exceeding $636 million.
The total direct economic activity was estimated to be in excess of $4.5 billion per year.
The study shows that the chicken industry on Delaware paid nearly $619 million in state and federal businesses taxes, $237 million throughout all of Maryland, and throughout Virginia more than $590 million.
In the dialogue from the anti-poultry crowd which preceded last Thursday’s hearing in Princess Anne, the feeling was expressed that Somerset County should be protected as “a playland.”
Sure, let’s do it. The price of admission is $4.5 billion.