Legislators Push Poultry Tax For Bay Clean-Up, MD Farmers Oppose - 47 ABC - Delmarva's Choice

Legislators Push Poultry Tax For Bay Clean-Up, MD Farmers Oppose

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MARYLAND – The troubles continue for farmers across the state of Maryland.

While the battle against the proposed Phosphorus Management Tool is still ongoing, a new bill introduced Tuesday in the General Assembly could potentially hamper the industry further.

Senator Richard Madaleno (D-18) and Delegate Shane Robinson (D-39) introduced the Poultry Fair Share Act in the Senate and House on Tuesday, which proposes a five cent tax for each chicken that any poultry company supplies to any farmer in Maryland. Currently, there are five major companies and about 800 poultry farmers across the state.

"This bill has the potential to drive the chicken industry out of Maryland," says Bill Satterfield, executive director of Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.

The reason for the tax would be to generate money for the state's "Cover Crop" program, which helps address the massive amounts of chicken waste produced on the Eastern Shore. Advocates for the bill say that since the companies produce the waste, they should cover it.

"Poultry corporations need to pay their fair share by contributing to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund. It's important that we all do our part to save the bay," says Delegate Shane Robinson.

However, companies like Perdue Farms, who started an alternative to land application of poultry waste for over a decade now, argue that they already have.

"Since 2001, we have invested more than $45 million in Perdue AgriRecycle, which has yet to make a profit," says Julie DeYoung, a spokeswoman for Perdue Farms. "Perdue remains the only poultry company in the Chesapeake Bay region providing a large-scale alternative to land application of poultry litter."

Farmers fear what will happen with the companies if the bill eventually passes.

"The companies are going to have to spend more money to stay in the state of Maryland and they're not going to stay," says Virgil Shockey, Worcester County Commissioner and poultry/grain farmer.

"If we don't have poultry companies, then we don't have poultry, and if we don't have poultry, I don't have a way to pay for my farm or to support my family," says Michelle Chesnik, a poultry farmer in Willards, Maryland. "If I don't have money for my family and my farm, what happens to my neighbors down the street? It just hurts everybody in the rural community.

Currently, the crop program is covered by a $60 "flush tax" from all state taxpayers, but if the bill passes, the flush tax will instead help upgrade the state's septic systems. Advocates say that is critical to the Chesapeake Bay clean-up, and while farmers claim they also want to help with that, they do not feel that this is the proper way to go about it.

A date has still not been set for a hearing, but when it is, farmers say they plan to take action.

"Now we know its impact and it's worthy of our efforts to fight it," says Satterfield.

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