China Chicken Trade

In this November 2009 photo, chickens stand in their cages at a farm near Stuart, Iowa. China has reopened its market to U.S. poultry, ending a five-year ban.

China ended its ban on American poultry, effective immediately, according to a Thursday press release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and many in the industry see the newly reopened market as an opportunity.

“Lifting the ban has been a top priority of the U.S. poultry industry for the last four years,” said Hobey Bauhan, president of the Virginia Poultry Federation. “We are overjoyed to the lifting of the ban finally came about.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert E. Lighthizer said the reopened Chinese market could open up more than $1 billion in annual sales to the American poultry industry, according to the USDA.

Industry groups, such as the National Chicken Council, are more optimistic.

“Renewed access to the Chinese market could result in $1 billion annually for chicken paws alone, and due to China’s meat protein deficit as a result of African Swine Fever, there could be as much as another $1 billion of potential exports of other chicken products, including leg and breast meat,” according to a press release from the National Chicken Council.

The council also expects the large Asian country’s market could generate another $100 million and $60 million in sales for turkey and poultry breeding stock, respectively.

In May 2014, China lifted a ban on Virginia poultry exports that began in 2007 after avian flu was found on a single Virginia farm, according to Associated Press reports from 2014.

In 2013, only $439,150 worth of Virginia poultry exports were sent to China, according to Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services data — only a fraction of the nation’s $500 million of poultry exports to China that year, according to USDA data.

Virginia exports multiplied more than eightfold in 2014, with $3.68 million worth of commonwealth poultry sent to China.

However, a year later, in 2015, China banned all American poultry due to an avian influenza outbreak, according to Elaine Lidholm, the director of communications for VDACS.

“The effect, generally speaking, was negative because we lost a significant market for U.S. poultry,” Bauhan said.

In the wake of the ban, Virginia poultry exports to China dwindled to $201,713 in 2015, $83,478 in 2016 and $0 in 2017 and 2018.

By 2017, the U.S. had been declared free of the disease, but the ban had persisted until Thursday, Lidholm said.

Despite the market opening back up, export numbers will probably not bounce right back, said Travis Carter, the business development manager of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership, who has worked in the poultry industry.

The ban lift “sounds warm and fuzzy, but it’s not just a light switch you can flip and go,” Carter said.

Even with an opportunity like this, there are significant barriers before production can be ramped up, he said.

One such hurdle is a lack of housing for breeder chickens, which also limits the number of eggs and birds, Carter said.

But the immediate demand could help companies alleviate a stockpile of frozen product if they have one, Carter said.

Five area poultry plants did not respond to inquiries on Thursday.

In the 6th Congressional District, the chicken industry alone supports over 10,000 jobs, pays $192 million in direct wages and has a total economic impact of nearly $2.8 billion, according to the National Chicken Council.

“Just from the perspective of the trade barrier being blocked, and with poultry being one of our largest agricultural commodities in the Valley, this is very good news,” said Jay Langston, the executive director of the Shenandoah Valley Partnership.

Contact Ian Munro at 574-6278 or imunro@dnronline.com. Follow Ian on Twitter @IanMunroDNR

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