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Delaware announces grants to support contract poultry farmers during COVID-19

Roman Battaglia / Delaware Public Media
Carney announcing the grant alongide Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan

The governors of Maryland and Delaware announced a new grant program to provide help contract poultry farmers in their states.


Carney says dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak at the poultry processing facilities in Southern Delaware taught him how fragile that entire poultry system is.


“And to the growers and producers from Delaware who aren’t here today, I hope you hear what were saying on this side of the Mason-Dixon line that we’re there for you for this program so that you can produce food for the people of our states and our country,” said Carney.


Chickens produced by contract poultry farmers are actually owned by the companies they produce for such as Perdue and Mountaire, and that means they were not eligible for the USDA’s Coronavirus Food Assistant Program funds. 


That technicality left them high and dry when things soured during the pandemic.  Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan spoke about these farmer’s struggles amid COVID-19.


“Just like any other small business, which they are, they’re really struggling and it would affect us if we don’t have these great family farms continuing to produce and the supply chain would be interrupted and then you people wouldn’t be getting their chicken and they certainly would be paying a lot more for it if we lost all these farmers,” said Hogan.


Because many processing facilities took fewer chickens during the height of the pandemic to improve safety, many farmers were forced to kill the chickens, also known as depopulation, without selling them.


Mary Lou Brown is a contract poultry farmer outside Hurlock.


“Know that all the way through the pandemic we never stopped. We worked every day, the only difference was we weren’t having meetings every evening. We were home, we were doing our job and we kept doing it to the best of our ability,” said Brown.


Brown and her daughter run a six chicken house operation. She says building a chicken house is a personal investment, and involves loans that have to be repaid. She says this grant money will help in keeping the lights on and keeping her family farm alive.


The grants will provide up to $1,000 per chicken house up to 5 houses. Additionally, farmers who had to depopulate their houses will get $1,500 per house with no limit.


Carney says he hopes this shows the state supports its poultry industry, specifically the family farms involved.


He says dealing with the poultry processing facilities reminded him of the work that family farms do in Delaware.


"...and through all of that, I kept thinking in the back of my mind about the upstream effects that it would have and anything that we would do on the growers in our state," said Carney. "And when you talk about contract growers, you're really talking about the family farmers that are the backbone of the agricultural land in Delaware and of course here on the Eastern Shore."


Carney says this grant is a product of the work that he and Hogan have done since the beginning of the pandemic to support the ag industry. And Hogan hopes future federal funding will include dollars for contract poultry farmers. 


Grant applications are due by December 1st to the Delaware Department of Agriculture, which is adminstering the program.

Roman Battaglia grew up in Portland, Ore, and now reports for Delaware Public Media as a Report For America corps member. He focuses on politics, elections and legislation activity at the local, county and state levels.
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