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Maryland chicken production topped $1 billion for the first time last year

Maryland chicken production topped $1 billion for the first time last year
Eastern Shore farms produced $1 billion worth of chicken in 2017, surpassing that milestone for the first time, an industry group said. (Jed Kirschbaum / Baltimore Sun)

Eastern Shore farms produced $1 billion worth of chicken in 2017, surpassing that milestone for the first time, an industry group said.

Maryland poultry production grew 12 percent from 2016 to 2017, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics.

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The growth in value came even as the amount of chicken produced on the Eastern Shore declined by about 10,000 pounds, to 1.84 million pounds.

James Fisher, a spokesman for Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., said that is because companies have found ways to improve efficiency and sell products such as pre-cooked grilled chicken strips that can easily be incorporated into meals.

"The number of chickens raised is actually down a percent compared to 20 years ago on Delmarva," Fisher said. "The natural question is, 'But there's more meat and value — what's going on?' I think a big answer is efficiency and quality control."

Maryland was the nation's ninth-largest producer of what are known as "broiler" chickens in 2017, as ranked by value of production, according to USDA.

Delaware ranked eighth, about $16 million ahead of Maryland. Counting the two states together, they would rank seventh in the country. Georgia is the country's top chicken producer, at $4.4 billion last year.

The number of chicken producers and chicken houses on the Delmarva has fallen in recent years, but production has increased as growers build larger and more efficient chicken houses. That has led to some conflict in communities such as Salisbury, where some residents have fought projects with industrial-scale chicken production.

Their concern prompted legislation proposed in this year's Maryland General Assembly session that would have increased monitoring of air quality around large chicken farms. The bill failed to come to a vote.

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