A federal judge in Baltimore has promised to issue his written decision, which could determine the future of the entire poultry industry on Maryland’s eastern shore, by year’s end. U.S. District Judge William M. Nickerson heard closing arguments on Nov. 30 in the case pitting a Kennedy scion and the University of Maryland Law School against the nation’s No. 3 poultry producer, Perdue Farms, and a single family-owned farm that raises chickens for the company. The reason Nickerson’s decision could have wider impact is that the case is brought under the federal Clean Water Act, and the court’s ruling could end up impacting an estimated 1,100 chicken farms in the same area that raise birds for the privately-held Perdue Farms. Perdue is headquartered in Salisbury, Maryland, located on the Delmarva Peninsula, a land mass that is somewhat isolated from the rest of the East Coast by Chesapeake Bay, the Delaware Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. The 170-mile long peninsula, which includes parts of Delaware, Virginia, and Maryland is known for its contract chicken farms. The contract chicken farm located near Berlin, Maryland, owned by Alan and Kristin Hudson was originally named in the lawsuit because environmentalists claimed there was a large pile of chicken manure on the farm. That wasn’t true. It was biomass pile from a nearby town. While some of the environmentalists making the false charges were dropped from the lawsuit, Hudson Farm stayed in it, and the nationally known Waterkeepers Alliance, chaired by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., took over for the plaintiffs. It’s received assistance from the environmental law unit at the UM Law School, which brought criticism from both Gov. Martin O’Malley and state lawmakers. In making their arguments to Nickerson, the plaintiffs turned attention to chicken manure might move from the Hudson Farm to a drainage ditch to the Pocomake River and ultimately into Chesapeake Bay. One route suggested was that dried manure is blown from fans used to vent the chicken houses to the outdoors. The attorney for the Hudson Farm said an unfavorable ruling would amount to a “death penalty” for his clients, because the fourth generation family farm would have to be sold to pay fines and legal expenses. Perdue’s attorney said the environmental group failed to come up with any evidence chicken manure is found off the farm. Like No. 1 Tyson Foods, and No. 2 Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue contracts with individual farms to raise chickens for a steady and predictable supply for processing. Perdue has slaughtered and processed chickens at Salisbury since 1968. Kennedy is the son of the former U.S. Attorney General and assassinated candidate for President. The Waterkeeper Alliance is based in New York City. Nickerson, appointed to the federal bench by former President George H.W. Bush, heard the case without a jury, wrapping up with closing arguments last Friday. Photo credit: The Chesapeake Bay Program.