Issues more personal for McLean as a grower
CENTREVILLE, Md. — Though only a chicken farmer for a relatively short period, 12 years, Andrew McLean has been a part of the industry a lot longer.
Honored recently by Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc. with the J. Frank Gordy, Sr. Delmarva Distinguished Citizen Award, DPI’s highest honor, McLean said being involved in agriculture issues goes back to his college days at Virginia Tech and Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity.
“I have to give that experience the credit,” he said at his farm last week. “I was encouraged, I was pushed, to do a lot of activities in college from being in AGR. AGR gave me the push, just like DPI gave me the push.”
He serves on several of DPI’s committees and is a past president of the trade group.
A graduate of the LEAD Maryland Foundation leadership program, he has served on the Maryland Agricultural Commission, is a past president of the Queen Anne’s County 4-H Park Board and is a past president of the Ruthsburg Community Center.
McLean grew up in Harford County, Md., working on his grandfather’s dairy farm.
While that sparked an interest in farming, majoring in agriculture economics in college led him into banking, working for Telmark for 18 years and then another 10 years with other ag lenders before starting a chicken farm in 2006.
“It was a great experience,” he said. “I miss parts of it. I miss the deals and getting out and meeting people,” he said.
He recalled being recruited by another lender while working for Telmark and the main selling point was serving a smaller territory with less travel, but that didn’t appeal much to McLean.
“I didn’t tell them but in fact I liked traveling up and down Delmarva,” he said.
Now, staying involved in agriculture groups, especially DPI and the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge team, scratches the itch of staying in touch with people around the industry.
As chairman of the land and litter challenge, McLean works with a group of industry, government, university, and environmental persons who are working on a consensus-building approach to develop solutions for poultry-related issues.
“I believe in the mission that we can do better and in order to get results we need to be working with the reasonable environmental community to get the results for the Bay,” he said.
It issued last year a report on litter transport programs on the peninsula and a report on its nutrient mass balance study is expected for release this summer.
A state-of-the-industry study is also in progress, he added.
McLean said he gravitated to the challenge effort because it is data-driven.
Like in the banking world, the numbers tell the true story, he said.
Transitioning from banking to poultry farming, McLean purchased a 350-acre farm in Queen Anne’s County and built six chicken houses, growing for Perdue Farms.
Becoming a grower brought farming issues even more to the forefront for McLean.
“It makes it very personal as opposed to be being just interested,” he said. “When you’ve got a couple million invested, it focuses your attention.”
In 2016 he completed transitioning to USDA Organic, producing for Perdue’s Coleman Organic brand.
Following organic standards spreads the work out differently than raising conventional birds he said, helping him handle the workload mainly by himself.
“It might be more work in total than I was used to but it’s spread out,” McLean said.
Mainly, he said economics drove the shift to organic for him, a way to add value to what he was already doing without expanding the operation.
Mounting solar panels on one of the house’s roof followed similar logic by reducing energy costs.
“I’m always trying to think of the next thing I can do to make a little more money,” he said.
McLean said his farm, like the industry as a whole, strives for continuous improvement, environmentally and economically, but it has to stay in balance.
“It’s a matter of what can be done through research and how can we work in that direction that is at the same time profitable for agriculture,” McLean said.
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