Ruffled feathers lead to poultry discussion at commission meeting
By MICHEL ELBEN
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — What began as a stern reproach from Maryland’s Secretary of Agriculture Buddy Hance at the Aug. 10 meeting of the Maryland Ag Commission became an extended discussion of the Maryland poultry industry.
Hance stressed his support of the poultry industry after publicly chastising commission poultry representative Paul Chesnik for writing an open letter to Comptroller Peter Franchot that was published in The Delmarva Farmer on July 19. The letter came after the announcement of Allen Family Foods bankruptcy and lamented the decline of the poultry industry.
At the commission meeting, Chesnik said he was referring to a July 5 article in The (Baltimore) Sun that said Hance said farmers should consider diversifying into a variety of crops to meet the demand of local population centers rather than building chicken houses.
Hance said The Sun article took his remarks out of context.
“We work hard to support the chicken industry, not once did I say don’t put up chicken houses,” said Hance.
Hance, a farmer himself, said he answers the telephone and will return calls from concerned farmers.
Chesnik asked why Delaware didn’t have the same regulations as Maryland.
Hance explained that Delaware did not surround the Chesapeake Bay as Maryland does and each state has separate issues.
“I wish we had Delaware’s CAFO standards,” said Hance. “Delaware is a very small state. We are never going to be Delaware.
“Nobody is more frustrated than I am about the (Bay) model but that model is the key to everything. We can measure and track that. It’s a numeric standard to meet,” said Hance.
“We really want to try to do this but we deserve a little help,” said Tom Hartsock, Livestock representative on the commission.
Chesnik and Hartsock guided the discussion to stormwater management and poultry house construction.
“There’s a $20,000 to 30,000 difference to build here than in Delaware,” said Hartsock.
“We’re currently looking at tax credits, incentives, all kinds of things to offset the cost,” said Hance.
“Doesn’t it come down to the governor being outranked by the EPA?” said the commission’s organic representative Eddie Taylor.
Hance said the governor was doing all he could. He had been to plenty of chicken houses and sat down with farmers.
“I’ve had the governor in Berlin and Salisbury, he’s been there,” said Hance.
Hance said Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) has scheduled a meeting for next week to work with poultry producers on Total Maximum Daily Load and stormwater management issues.
This will be her second visit in a few weeks, and Hance added the first visit surprised her.
“Mikulski was shocked and she said she had never heard so much animosity against the federal government during her entire career,” Hance said.
Hartsock then brought up the United States’ free trade policy and asked Hance if changes would be helpful to the industry.
According to the International Trade Administration, free trade agreements have proven to be one of the best ways to open up foreign markets to U.S. exporters.
Trade agreements reduce barriers to U.S. exports, protect U.S. interests and enhance the rule of law in the FTA partner country. The reduction of trade barriers and the creation of a more stable and transparent trading and investment environment make it easier and cheaper for U.S. companies to export their products and services to trading partner markets.
Forty-one percent of U.S. exports went to FTA partner countries in 2010, with exports to those countries growing at a faster rate than exports to the rest of the world.
The United States has 12 FTAs in force with 17 countries. The United States is negotiating FTAs with Korea, Panama and Colombia but these agreements have not yet entered into force.
“It certainly would be helpful to us. We’re still going to be optimistic,” Hance said.
In his report to the MAC prior to addressing Chesnik, Hance mentioned Harim’s recent acquisition of Allen Family Foods.
O’Malley welcomed company officials to Maryland with a breakfast shortly after the sale had been approved.
“He wanted to make sure they know we support them,” Hance said. “They have some excellent plans. We’re very fortunate they bought everything.”
Harim is the largest poultry company in Korea. They will release an official statement about their business plan on Aug. 17.