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Delmarva chicken producers hopeful about Trump

Annie Ropeik
Delaware Public Media

Chicken growers on the Delmarva Peninsula produced more than 4 billion pounds of chicken last year. And about one in five of those chickens were shipped outside the US, typically to Canada or Mexico.


So you might think President Trump’s talk of renegotiating trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) would scare poultry producers. But it doesn’t.

“There is no big concern that the trade picture will change dramatically,” said James Fisher, a spokesman for the Delmarva Poultry Industry.


Even with the possibility of a trade war with China looming, local chicken growers aren't scared. Fisher said that's because China hasn’t been accepting US poultry since early 2015.  

In fact, Delmarva poultry producers are pleased with the new president. They especially like his pick of former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue (who has no connection to chicken producer Perdue Farms) as the next agriculture secretary.


“Georgia is a major poultry producer just like Delaware is so we’re confident he’ll understand the challenges and opportunities for poultry going forward,” Fisher said. 


Fisher says poultry producers expect exports to grow in the future as US trade representatives and Delaware’s two US senators fight to open new markets.


Just last year, South Africa started accepting US chicken for the first time in 15 years.   


And on the home front, Delmarva chicken production showed no signs of slowing in 2016.


Recently released statistics from the Delmarva Poultry Industry show chicken sales increased by 4 percent in 2016.


“The general trend has been kind of a slow and steady growth. There hasn’t been any big, seismic year-to-year changes. We like to try to be a stable industry,” Fisher said.  


But even though the industry sold more chickens last year, the number of chicken houses declined by 140 in 2016.


Fisher said poultry producers are choosing to build larger, more efficient buildings to replace smaller, outdated chicken houses.


Wages for the 14,500 employees of Delmarva’s five chicken companies reportedly increased by almost 8 percent last year.


Fisher said there’s no single reason why wages rose, but he says it’s an indication of a healthy industry.

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