chicken plant

Delaware and Maryland are teaming up to provide relief money to the poultry industry, which was hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The relief program will provide direct payments to thousands of Delmarva poultry farmers growers, and producers. The industry, in Sussex County, was at the center of a COVID-19 hotspot identified by the state in late April, jumpstarting fears that the food supply chain could be impacted, though that never became dire. The industry has since recovered from the outbreak, at least, medically.

"The poultry industry on Delmarva is second to none and it’s because of the long-standing working relationships that we have across state lines, especially when it comes to supporting our family farms,” said Governor Carney in a written statement. “COVID-19 has impacted all of us, but for the poultry growers who take pride in putting safe, nutritious food on your table, many of the roadblocks that COVID-19 threw at them were out of their control. This grant program is an opportunity once again for both our states to show our support for our family farms.”

Delaware Poultry Industry executive director Holly Porter hailed the decision, saying it recognizes how crucial the chicken community is to Delmarva's economy.

“The chicken industry never called time out during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the food web held together under real stress. Chicken growers saw significant income interruptions, and while federal aid has helped repair balance sheets for other U.S. farmers, contract chicken growers have been left on the sidelines. With this grant program, Gov. Carney and Gov. Hogan are delivering real assistance to farmers who suffered losses from COVID-19, and DPI applauds their commitment to the chicken community.”

DPI said chicken companies on Delmarva placed 45% fewer chicken in farmers' chicken houses in early Mary amid quarantine measures across the country, and just six million chicks were placed in family farmers’ chicken houses in Delaware and Maryland the first week of May, a significant decline compared to the 10.7 million chicks placed on those farms in the first week of March. That drop in chicks placed represents lost income for Delmarva’s more than 1,300 farmers raising chicken in contractual agreements with chicken processing companies. 

Individual poultry houses are eligible for payments of up to $1,00 or $5,000 per farm. The states said any grower who had to depopulate birds remaining in-house for composting related to COVID-19 will get an additional $1,500 per poultry house, with no cap.

“Because of the disruption of markets, labor availability for the companies to run at full capacity in the processing plants, and other COVID-19 related impacts, Delaware growers were faced with longer than normal layout times and saw a decrease in the number of birds placed,” said Secretary of Agriculture Michael T. Scuse in a written statement. “In some cases, farms were required to depopulate birds because a company did not have the ability to process the birds. All of these factors created significant reductions in grower pay and hardships for our family farms that are vital to our economy.”

The Delaware Department of Agriculture will administer the program. Applications, which require proof of a W9, will be accepted until December 1, 2020. Apply by clicking here.