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Poultry farmers unfairly portrayed as villains out to poison Chesapeake Bay | READER COMMENTARY

Poultry "litter," a mixture of bird manure and wood shavings, is periodically removed from chicken houses. Growers with large flocks are required to report annually on what they do with the waste.
Poultry "litter," a mixture of bird manure and wood shavings, is periodically removed from chicken houses. Growers with large flocks are required to report annually on what they do with the waste. (Doug Kapustin)

Some facts unmentioned in Gerald Winegrad’s recent commentary and a fact he got wrong are worth bringing to your readers’ attention (”Farms and King Chicken stand in the way of cleaner Chesapeake Bay,” June 20).

First, the clear error: Mr. Winegrad asserts that “about 30 percent of chickens are exported overseas.” That’s not even close to correct. In 2019, just 12% of all chicken produced in the U.S. was exported to other markets, with Mexico and Canada top export destinations, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Chicken processed in Maryland is even more likely to appear on Americans’ plates. Of the $890 million in chicken produced in Maryland last year, only chicken worth $44 million or less than 5%, was exported to other countries, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data. Moreover, much of what America’s chicken producers export are products American tastes don’t favor like paws.

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More broadly, the author’s desire to paint farmers as villains doesn’t leave room to note the progress farmers, including chicken growers, have made in protecting the Chesapeake Bay. But the progress has been real. Over the past 30 years, farmers’ commitment to sustainable practices has resulted in reducing agriculture’s nitrogen and phosphorus loads to the Bay by 25%. And again, Maryland shines here. Since 1985, Maryland’s agriculture sector has reduced the nitrogen it sends to the Chesapeake Bay by 35%. The Maryland Agricultural Cost Share Program that the former state senator helped the General Assembly enact contributed to these gains.

While farmers have been reducing their nitrogen runoff, nitrogen sent to the Chesapeake Bay in the storm water systems of urban and suburban areas increased — yes, increased — from 34 million pounds a year in the 1980′s to 41 million pounds in 2017. Farmers are moving the needle in the right direction; developed areas, despite many of their residents’ best intentions, are not.

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Farmers have risen to the challenge we put before them, managing to feed more people while reducing pollution. A willingness to embrace efficiency and economies of scale have helped them do so. Partnering with them, as Maryland and its wiser environmental advocacy organizations have done many times, empowers them to achieve even better results; demonizing them, as Mr. Winegrad seems content to do, is unhelpful.

Holly Porter, Georgetown, Delaware

The writer is executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc.

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