DPI: Number of poultry houses in region still short of peak

Associate Editor

(March 8, 2016) The Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. released information last month showing the number of poultry houses in Maryland and Delmarva hasn’t returned to a 2005 peak even as the industry’s expansion draws critical attention from homeowners and environmental activists across the region.
At the end of 2015, 2,143 poultry houses operated in Maryland, according to data DPI published in its February newsletter — about 100 more than those operating five years earlier.
But the state still needs to add more than 100 to reach the number of houses in operation in 2005: 2,253.
DPI collected the information from four of the state’s five poultry companies, Executive Director Bill Satterfield said.
One company’s data was not available for the years requested, he said.
Maryland reflects Delmarva similarly. At the end of 2015, 4,840 houses were in operation among the five companies across the Delmarva region, DPI said — an increase from the 4,679 in operation in 2010 but a significant drop-off from the 5,430 counted in 2005.
The numbers as published do not include a bird count.
As house technology has changed over the years, poultry houses have gotten larger and more efficient to yield larger numbers and more profit.
But other counteracting trends, such as USDA Organic poultry, require more space for birds.
The industry has been facing a backlash to the recent swell of poultry house construction — industry officials in the last year have called the expansion “booming” — from local residents and environmental groups seeking to cut back the amount of polluting nutrients that leak from poultry farms into the soil and nearby waters and, ultimately, the Chesapeake Bay.
A recent and widely circulated estimate from a regional environmental group claims more than 200 houses are approved for construction across Delmarva, frustrating industry officials who said the estimate doesn’t account for the number of poultry houses that shut down and need to be replaced each year.
Although DPI publishes house construction numbers in its newsletter each year, Satterfield said, efforts within the Maryland legislature to push bills that would further regulate and limit the poultry industry motivated DPI to circulate the numbers.
“Because so many numbers were being (tossed) around by some groups not friendly to the chicken industry and they seem to focus just on alleged chicken house construction without taking into consideration the number of houses taken out of use, it seemed wise for us to release the facts,” he said in an email to The Delmarva Farmer.
Last year, industry officials told a Maryland House committee the industry’s expansion was so robust that the only thing limiting it was a shortage of construction crews across the region.
To some degree, falling grain prices have also pushed farmers to expand or start poultry operations.
Poultry companies have also increased bonuses for new house construction.