Delmarva's meat chicken industry increased its economic output by 18.6% in the past five years by producing 4.3 billion pounds of chicken worth $3.4 billion in 2018, according to new data released by Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.

The 20,425 chicken company employees on Delmarva earned $784 million in wages in 2018, and the region’s 1,302 chicken growers earned $268 million in contract income. In total, income earned by employees and farmers associated with Delmarva’s chicken industry was $1.05 billion.

Since 1957, DPI has collected and compiled data from the poultry companies operating on Maryland's Eastern Shore, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and in Delaware to gauge the scope and growth of Delmarva's chicken economy. Overall, farmers raised 605 million chickens in 2018, about the same number as were raised in 2017. The chickens were raised in 5,166 chicken houses across Delmarva — 9% fewer chicken houses than were in active use 20 years ago. Modern chicken houses, larger than those built in the past, are more energy-efficient and have climate, feed and water technology that improves bird health. The average Delmarva chicken farm today has four chicken houses in operation.

“These numbers reflect certain challenges growers and chicken companies faced in 2018, including downward pressure on prices of all proteins, not just chicken,” said DPI Executive Director Holly Porter. “The chicken community on Delmarva used resources efficiently and achieved modest growth in recent years, while at the same time embracing and extending environmental practices that are measurably improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.”

Highlights from DPI’s 2018 report on Delmarva’s chicken industry include:

— Chicken growers and companies planted more than 7,500 trees as part of DPI’s vegetative environmental buffers program.

— Delmarva’s chicken companies invested $137 million in capital improvements, including investments in wastewater treatment and processing plants.

— To make chicken feed, chicken companies purchased 93 million bushels of corn, 41 million bushels of soybeans and 266,800 bushels of wheat. Total feed ingredient costs came to $1.01 billion, or 3%more than the prior year.

— Chicken companies purchased $260 million in packaging and processing supplies.

For more, visit dpichicken.org.