In speaking engagements statewide, Senator Tom Carper has often mentioned the three C’s of Delaware. He’s referring to Delaware’s rich history in the economic industries of cars, chemicals, and chickens. It looks as though he will have to edit his speech as only one lone “C” seems to remain strong in Delaware.
Chemicals-Founded in 1802, the three DuPont cousins transformed gunpowder making to chemicals. The manufacturing company went through many transformations over the years but settled on the sciences-centering it’s focus on food, seed, and biofuels. The company seemed to embrace agriculture with its “Pioneer” seed division, crop protection chemicals, and in-feed animal nutrition and biosecurity products. However, 2015 will forever be known as the year DuPont merged with the Michigan based company known as Dow Chemical Co. The new name? “DowDuPont”. Delaware has lost its lone chemical empire and the single name giant. What does this mean for local agriculture? Will farmers buy seed from a Michigan based seed sales rep? How long before this sales rep is based in China? What is the economic impact on our state? No one seems to know or at least no one is talking. State elected leaders were quick to post sad comments on social media as the news broke. Too little, too late. It can’t be the way our Governor wanted to end his last year in office and 2016 is an election year.
Cars-The industry fell apart in 2009 with the exit of the Chrysler plant in Newark, DE. Soon thereafter, the old GM plant turned Fisker fell bankrupt right under the state’s nose; an epic fail at the start of the Markell administration.
Chickens-Only one shining star remains. The lone “C” is chickens and it’s Sussex County’s claim to fame. The poultry industry began in 1923 in Ocean View, DE when Cecile Steele mistakenly was delivered 500 chicks. She only ordered 50 to replace her laying flock. She kept them, raised them, and sold 387 survivors for 62 cents a pound. Here we are 93 years later and Sussex County ranks #1 in U.S. broiler production, producing over 200 million birds each year. There are more than 1,500 poultry farms on Delmarva with more than 4,600 individual houses. The economic impact is huge with a total of over 13,000 jobs and an aggregate output of $3.2. billion. But the industry is not invincible. Farmers and state officials are preparing for the outbreak of avian influenza to hit. A proposed “water tax” keeps popping up in the Delaware General Assembly, which could hurt all farmers not just poultry growers. Nutrient management laws are being shoved down farmers’ throats. Animal welfare activists claim poultry growers are “factory farms” and have tried to gain access to local chicken house facilities to claim abuse. Will elected officials take note and protect a thriving downstate industry? Or will they post on social media the day after the industry is gone? Thank goodness for those working behind the scenes to advocate for poultry farmers such as Delmarva Poultry Industry (DPI) and the DE Farm Bureau. But is it enough? Senator Carper, you may not have any C’s left.