Judith Stribling: Dialogue key to solving poultry development issues

In the past year or two on the Eastern Shore, there has been a tremendous increase in the number of requests for poultry house permits.

Some of these permits are requests for replacement of obsolete or deteriorating houses on pre-existing farms. Many others are for large, multi-house facilities owned not by farmers, but by outside investors.

This is a departure from the historical situation of a family farm diversifying to raise chickens for additional income.

Substantial profit is realized by investment in raising chickens, making it attractive to investors. Yet current zoning laws do not distinguish between a family-owned farm operation and large concentrations of six or more houses.

The net effect of increased poultry house construction would be an increase in the amount of chicken litter produced on the Lower Shore. This would increase the need for disposal of large quantities of additional manure, at a time when pressures are mounting to further limit manure applications to farmland.

There is also the potential for this industrial-scale poultry approach to make small chicken farms obsolete, and many are already closing down.

Combined with the impacts on surrounding residents of deteriorating air quality, noise, and added truck traffic, this new situation calls for careful evaluation.

Several Shore counties have begun this process, reviewing zoning and permitting approaches to this very different type of operation.

We encourage Wicomico County to take meaningful steps toward more-appropriate zoning of large poultry operations.

The Friends of the Nanticoke River supports our local family farmers and appreciate their essential positive economic impact in our region. Our members include some of these farmers, and our rural watershed has many who depend on this industry for their livelihoods, with few alternative employment options.

We are committed to maintaining an ongoing dialogue with poultry farmers, with the goal of seeking sensible solutions to problems associated with poultry manure and with large numbers of chicken houses.

We are determined to avoid the divisive and confrontational approaches of some involved in this discussion, and to remember that we are all one community.  

Dr. Judith Stribling, a Professor in Salisbury University’s Department of Biological Sciences,  represents The Friends of the Nanticoke River.

 

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