SALISBURY — Industry leaders, business owners, and elected officials came together Wednesday at Salisbury University for the annual Delmarva Poultry Summit.
While there, they discussed the effects of government regulation on the poultry industry, how it ties into and supports other business in the area and its future on the peninsula.
“Never in my 26 years in Annapolis have I seen an industry more on the outside than the chicken industry,” said Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, the summer’s featured speaker.
According to Franchot, the government is “constantly pulling the rug out on the private sector,” with ever-changing taxation and regulation policies.
“I believe the economic recovery is slowed by an unpredictable tax environment,” he said, adding that business owners need “a chance to catch their breath.”
State Delegate Mike McDermott (R-38B) argued that it is simple overregulation that is, in his opinion, causing the poultry industry in the area to “contract.” The need to comply with government mandates regarding poultry is raising costs to an unacceptable level, said McDermott.
“Poultry is a business venture,” he said, adding that lawmakers in Annapolis do not seem to understand that.
His hope was that the summit would serve as a jumping off point where leaders could generate strategies to start poultry on a more productive track.
Not all were as critical of the government’s relationship with the poultry industry. State Senator Jim Mathias noted that cooperation has been building, if slower than some would like.
“Although we haven’t moved at light speed, we have moved ahead,” he said.
Mathias repeated the mantra that “deeds, not words” are what the government and the poultry industry need to focus on. Whatever their stance on how regulation of the industry should be handled, all speakers agreed that poultry is too important to the peninsula to take chances with.
According to a presentation offered by the summit, Maryland’s poultry industry has a $4.5 billion annual economic value and supports more than 25,000 jobs. The Eastern Shore of Maryland makes up just under half of that, at $2 billion and 10,000 jobs. This means that poultry has a greater economic impact on the area than any other one field, including tourism.
But more than the money brought in directly, speakers at the summit explained that poultry plays a big part in balancing all aspects of the economy, from charity organizations to gas and oil companies.
Spicer Bell, president of the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore, related several non-profit organizations that benefit from donations, by way of food and money, made by poultry farmers, and from the industry in general.
“If the Delmarva poultry industry was not there, it would mean a significant number of shortfalls in funding for a variety of these programs,” said Bell.
Nash McMahon, vice president of Tri Gas and Oil, revealed that his company had started many years ago because of a need for propane and kerosene evidenced by poultry farmers.
“We are deeply rooted in Delmarva,” he said.
Since then, his company has grown and diversified, but McMahon said that agriculture and poultry are still very important to the health of the Tri Gas and Oil.
“We have a large [agricultural] customer base,” he said.
If the poultry industry was to suffer, stressed McMahon, all segments of the society would suffer. He pointed out that his staff of 122 employees would be cut drastically if there was no poultry industry to service.
“As poultry goes, so goes the shore,” said McDermott. “Every sector in the economy is served by that.”
At the summer, there was no disputing the importance of the industry. In the hopes of promoting cooperation between the government and private business, Franchot invited the summit to expand across the Bay Bridge and to hold another event in Annapolis this year, where he hopes proximity will help state legislatures take notice of the poultry industry.
“We’ve got to get our message across the bridge,” agreed Delegate Norm Conway (D-38B)
Conway recognized that, in his opinion, environmental regulations on industry can sometimes be “carried too far” and urged representatives of the industry to be vocal about any of their concerns, to ensure the protection of poultry on Delmarva.
With that in mind, Conway agreed with Franchot that taking the summit to Annapolis would be a productive move.
Bell was also supportive of a poultry summit in general.
“I think it gives us all the opportunity to re-envision ourselves and the challenges we’re facing,” he told the assembly.