Commentary: Chicken growers request help from Congress

By Holly Porter

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an adaptation of a letter sent to Sens. Chris Coons, D-Del., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss., leaders of the Senate’s Chicken Caucus.

America’s chicken producers and processors have often adapted to difficult situations and overcome challenges to provide a safe, secure food supply. However, despite our current efforts, the chicken supply chain is under pressure from unexpected and devastating effects of the COVID-19 outbreak that have seriously impacted livelihoods and food consumption patterns. The impact on chicken growers is so serious that Delmarva’s chicken growers are now asking Congress and the White House to come to our aid – just as they have already aided other farmers across the country.

Many chicken-processing facilities have been forced to reduce operations due to the lack of restaurant, institutional or school demand and workforce shortages caused by COVID-19. These challenges faced by chicken-processing facilities impact the entire supply chain, including the more than 1,300 Delmarva family farmers who care for chickens from the first day they hatch to the day they are harvested. Reduced demand has meant fewer bird placements on family farms, cutting into the revenue the farmers can expect this year. These farmers assume many fixed overhead costs, no matter their flock schedule, and any downtime will bring great financial pressure to their balance sheets. None of these seismic shifts was foreseeable many months ago when chicken growers drew up their 2020 farm budgets.

To help these farmers cope with a decrease in income and ensure their farms can continue to provide America with its most popular protein, it is essential that chicken growers be provided with direct financial assistance by the federal government, just as other farmers and livestock producers have been supported by Congress and the White House during the pandemic. The $16 billion in aid available to farmers under the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program has not provided any benefit to chicken growers, since only livestock farmers raising cattle, lambs, yearlings and hogs are eligible for it. CFAP also provides aid to farmers producing field crops, milk and specialty crops – but not chicken.

American workers who have been deemed essential and critical have shown extreme resilience – working to care for, feed and protect Americans – and are selflessly serving the nation during this time of crisis. Now, chicken growers need Congress and the White House to be there for them.

Holly Porter is executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. in Georgetown.