Proposed Changes to DE Nutrient Management Commission

It’s hard to find a poultry farmer in New Castle County, which makes it hard to fill the Nutrient Management Commission. And so became House Bill (HB) 282, which changes the composition of the Commission.

As with many state boards and commissions, the Delaware Code relating to this Commission is very specific and can be very confusing. Bear with me! Currently, there are 15 total voting members on the Commission. One is the Director of the Division of Watershed Stewardship for DNREC. The 14 others are appointed by various elected officials. Of the 14 appointed, 7 must be full-time farmers. The 7 full-time farmers must be divided by county. For example, 2 must be full-time farmers from New Castle County, 2 from Kent County, and 3 from Sussex County.  Even more specifically, the 7 full-time farmers must consist of:

  • 1 dairy farmer
  • 1 swine producer
  • 3 poultry farmers
  • 2 row-crop farmers (1 grain and 1 vegetable)

If enacted, HB 282 would remove 1 poultry farmer from the Commission while adding 1 equine operation owner.  Currently, Delaware’s equine industry has no representation on the Commission. I’m assuming this change will cater to New Castle County because of a lack of poultry, swine and row-crop farming. In other words, representation for this county would have to come from the dairy and equine industries. While I understand the desire for representation of the equine industry and every county, I have concern for the representation of less poultry farmers. The fact is clear: poultry is Delaware’s #1 agricultural commodity. Of Delaware’s cash farm income, 73% was from broilers in 2009. We are 8th in the nation in the value of broiler production. As a matter of fact, broiler production began in Delaware. Need I say more?

Yet, this industry (and all of agriculture) is under pressure from federal regulation and environmental activists who say we need more rules for animal waste (i.e. nutrient management). Take yesterday’s DE State News, for example, which featured a guest commentary from a Washington DC environmental guru who blames agriculture as the top single contributor of nutrient pollution to the Chesapeake Bay. She cites poultry farmers specifically, claiming they grow too many birds and produce too much waste without controls on waste disposal. This is exactly the duty of the DE Nutrient Management Commission: to regulate activities involving the generation and application of nutrients in order to help improve and maintain the quality of Delaware’s ground and surface waters and to meet or exceed federally mandated water quality standards, in the interest of the overall public welfare. Therefore, I would advocate for more poultry farmers on this Commission; not less.

Have all other options been properly considered? Could the county representation requirement be changed? In other words, maybe there should only 1 full-time farmer from New Castle County represented? Perhaps the swine producer should be removed? I could be wrong, but I haven’t seen a large-scale pig farm in Delaware in a very long time (1980′s?).

DISCLAIMER: I guess I should go straight to the source. My grandfather co-chairs the Commission. I also have 3 family members who are poultry growers. I’ll do my homework. Until then, here’s a link to a list of members from the DE Dept of Ag website but it’s not current. This also made me wonder: Does the poultry industry have a registered lobbyist in Delaware to advocate for poultry growers in our state?  I looked it up under the Public Integrity Commission website. The answer is yes. It’s Bill Satterfield from the Delmarva Poultry Industry. I read their March 2012 newsletter, which explained that all current legislative efforts are focused in Maryland because of the dozens of bills that could affect the MD poultry industry. Too close for comfort, if you ask me……