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Delmarva's chicken industry sees 12% growth, wholesale worth $5 billion

Delaware Department of Agriculture

The Delmarva chicken industry reached a record $5 billion in wholesale value in 2022.

In 2022 the Delmarva chicken industry raised 596 million chickens, a 5.1% increase from 2021. It also processed 4.4 billion pounds of chickens, up 4% from the previous year.

The wholesale value of $5 billion is an increase of 12% from 2021.

Delmarva Chicken Association Communications Manager James Fisher says Delaware’s chicken economy is about the size of Delaware tourism.

“We do see though that our industry really does more with less," he says. "So there are fewer chicken houses in operation in 2022 than there were 20 years ago on Delmarva. But at the same time we have been able to produce more chicken. So we are producing more with fewer resources, with less of a footprint on the land.”

Modern chicken production began in the First State 100 years ago. Fisher says Delaware is now in the top 10 states for chicken production, and Sussex County is the most important county of any in U.S. for production.

But the industry supports other local economies too.

“So last year we bought $1.6 billion in crops to make feed for chickens," Fisher says. "So corn, soybeans, wheat and other crops are supported because we’re the main customer for them. So grain farmers around the region have the benefit of a steady customer and a solid price because chicken feed is such an important part of what we do.”

The report also shows there were 1,334 chicken growers on Delmarva. These independent, family-owned farms operated 4,889 chicken houses with a capacity of 134 million chickens, and earned $349 million in contract income from Delmarva’s five chicken companies – Amick Farms, Allen Harim, Mountaire Farms, Perdue Farms and Tyson.

Those five companies spent $168 million on capital improvements to processing plants, hatcheries and wastewater treatment systems, a $16 million increase from 2021.

Fisher says that the Delmarva Chicken Association also made significant strides to “greenify” farms – last year more than 1700 trees, shrubs and grasses were planted to make living fences.

Rachel Sawicki is Delaware Public Media's New Castle County Reporter. They are non-binary and use they/them pronouns.