poultry house - creative commons photo, USDA

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Leaders in the Delmarva poultry industry are happy that China is reopening to U.S. chicken.

“It is positive. It has the potential to increase demand,” said James Fisher, spokesman for the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.

China banned the importation of U.S. poultry in 2015 after an avian influenza outbreak in the Midwest.

The disease did not make it to the Mid-Atlantic, and the United States has been free of the disease since August 2017, but the ban on poultry has remained in place.

China announced on Nov. 14 that it would drop the ban, though it did not give a firm timeline for doing so.

The announcement is a potential bright spot in a year marked by a continuing trade war with China, low commodity prices and iffy weather.

The United States is the world’s second-largest poultry exporter, totaling $4.3 billion last year. And China was a major buyer before the avian influenza outbreak — $500 million in 2013.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer estimated that a reopened China could become a $1 billion market for U.S. poultry.

All of this exporting aids Delmarva, where about 10% of the poultry are exported.

And Asia, where dark meat is popular, complements the U.S. market, where light meat is preferred, Fisher said.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper said he was “cautiously optimistic” about China’s announcement because the poultry industry supports thousands of jobs in Sussex County alone.

Delmarva farmers raised 605 million birds and had an economic value of $3.4 billion last year, according to Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc.

Jenny Rhodes contributes to that total.

A poultry farmer and University of Maryland Extension educator, Rhodes raises about a half million broilers every year.

With recent market setbacks, some farmers have seen lengthening layout times — the period between new flocks when the houses sit empty.

She’s hopeful that China’s move will add more pep on Delmarva.

“We are always optimistic about opportunity and that things will get better. ... It’s a trickle down effect,” Rhodes said.

Lancaster Farming