My take: The economic clout of the chicken industry

Chicken house Delmarva Chicken Association

The Delmarva Chicken Association has released its annual economic impact report. The report outlines the impact of a key driver in the Delaware economy.

The report also dispels some myths surrounding the key industry on the Delmarva Peninsula.

In good news for consumers, the wholesale value of chicken produced in the region fell by 14.6%. As supply chain snarls and other headwinds eased, chicken became more affordable.

That wasn’t great news for the industry, which did not see its costs drop by the same percentage. In fact, the number of jobs in the industry grew last year. The region did not lose any processing plants, which was not the case elsewhere in the country.

The number of chicken houses on the peninsula rose by less than a half percent, with the total number dropping by 4% over the past two decades. The number of chickens raised on the peninsula has only grown by 4.2% in past decades. The industry is now processing far more chicken grown outside of the region.


The stats counter much of the misinformation often thrown out on social media or from critics who would like to see the industry disappear.

The biggest myth is that growers are adding chicken houses. The current pace of construction is due to the need to replace obsolete structures. Capacity has increased, but we have not seen the long-feared mega-growing operations.

The industry faces its share of challenges including waste treatment issues and subdivisions encroaching on once well-buffered poultry farms. That’s the reason for initiatives such as dust control and landscaping buffers.

Processors have and invested upwards of $200 million in capital improvements that deal with issues like wastewater management.

Another challenge not included in the industry stats is a serious affordable housing shortage in Sussex, for many years, the nation’s leading poultry producer. This issue affects everyone from teachers to police to poultry workers.

The industry, while facing antitrust, environmental, and other issues, has shown an amazing amount of resiliency over the decades, and critics who often parachute in from the Washington Beltway at various times have to realize this industry is not going anywhere. – Doug Rainey, chief content officer.

In 2023, the Delmarva chicken community:1-year change10-year change20-year change
Raised 601.1 million chickens. 0.9%6.4%4.2%
Processed 4.4 billion pounds of chickens.0.6%21.0%37.6%
Operated 4,909 chicken houses on independently owned farms.0.4%6.3%-4.0%
The houses had a capacity of 138 million chickens2.4%10.9%14.5%
There were 1,213 chicken growers-9.1%-21.1%-36.8%
They earned $312 million in contract income2.8%*18.7%*31.8%*
There were 18,888 chicken company employees3.1%40.3%34.0%
They earned $876 million in wages, excluding benefits. -4.8%*40.5%*46.0%*
Feed ingredients for chickens were purchased for $1.5 billion.-4.8%*-8.9%*80.5%*
The wholesale value of chicken produced was $4.4 billion.-14.6%*17.5%*72.8%*
* Inflation-adjusted.
Source: Delmarva Chicken Association.