Poultry called vital to Shore Decline of only 4% would be devastating, industry official says

$29 million drop in income

Some real costs of moving toward a cleaner bay

Maryland economy

December 09, 1997|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

OCEAN CITY -- Even a slight reduction in the state's poultry industry would have a devastating impact on the Eastern Shore's economy, an industry official said during the opening session of the Maryland Farm Bureau's annual meeting here yesterday.

A 4 percent decline in chicken production would would cost the region $74 million in economic output, Kay Richardson, president of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., told the state's largest farm organization with 14,800 members.

DPI, as it is frequently referred to, is the trade association of an industry that produces more than 600 million chickens annually.

Citing a recent study by the University of Maryland, Richardson said a reduction of that size would result in the loss of $29 million in personal income and business profit and 880 jobs. She said that would be the financial impact on just Maryland's portion of the Delmarva poultry industry.

"It is important to have a cleaner bay, but it's also important to have a profitable agriculture industry in Maryland," she said.

Richardson spoke at a lively panel discussion of "Pfiesteria, Mandates, and the Bay" moderated by former Gov. Harry R. Hughes, who headed the state's commission on Pfiesteria piscicida, the toxic microorganism that erupted in Chesapeake waters this summer.

The Blue-Ribbon Citizens Action Commission was established after outbreaks of Pfiesteria were linked to human ailments and resulted in the closing of portions of three Eastern Shore waterways.

Hughes said there is going to be a cost to solving the Pfiesteria problem, and he said he thought that it should be borne by farmers, poultry processors and taxpayers.

He compared it to the state paying McCormick & Co. Inc. $1.5 million to expand its operations in Maryland rather than in Pennsylvania.

Hughes said the poultry industry operates on very small profit margins, and any new regulations should not put the industry at a competitive disadvantage with chicken processors in other states, including those in Delaware and Virginia.

Hughes said he had no feel for how much it would cost to dispose of chicken manure, but felt that it would be relatively small compared with the public expense of sewage-treatment plants.

He said the problem "justifies public expenditures" to protect the bay while trying to keep the farmer solvent and the poultry industry solvent.

Thomas V. Grasso, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the state has to come up with a solution to the problem "that keeps farmers farming and fishermen fishing."

Grasso said the poultry industry is a major source of nutrients in the bay and should pay its fair share of the cost to correct the problem.

Thomas Fretz, dean of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Maryland, College Park, stressed that any new regulations on farmers or chicken processors should be based on scientific fact. So far, he said, there is no proof that chicken manure caused the Pfiesteria outbreak.

Fretz noted that funding for scientific research at the university has been reduced by 30 percent since 1991.

This resulted in the loss of about 100 research and faculty positions, and additional funding is needed if the university is to make a dent with Pfiesteria research, he said.

Pub Date: 12/09/97

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