It’s not poul­try waste – it’s or­ganic fer­til­izer

Record Observer - - OPINION -

We have re­cently learned that stu­dents across our state are be­ing taught a les­son in en­vi­ron­men­tal ed­u­ca­tion that is fac­tu­ally in­cor­rect. We are con­cerned that stu­dents — and their par­ents — are be­ing mis­led in an ef­fort to pass anti-poul­try leg­is­la­tion that would take away or­ganic fer­til­izer. I would like to set the record straight on the value of poul­try lit­ter as or­ganic fer­til­izer.

Poul­try lit­ter is a mix­ture of chicken ma­nure and wood shav­ings. The wood shav­ings are the bed­ding used in poul­try houses. Chicken ma­nure, which has very lit­tle mois­ture, mixes with the shav­ings. It pro­duces a dry prod­uct that is eas­ily han­dled and very stack­able.

Con­trary to many as­sump­tions, poul­try lit­ter is very low in ni­tro­gen, phos­pho­rus and potas­sium, but very high in or­ganic mat­ter. It car­ries a nu­tri­ent value of 4 per­cent ni­tro­gen, 3 per­cent phos­pho­rus, 3 per­cent potas­sium and 90 per­cent or­ganic mat­ter. It is con­sid­ered one of mother na­ture’s per­fect fer­til­iz­ers. It is low in nu­tri­ent con­tent and high in or­ganic mat­ter. The or­ganic mat­ter im­proves the soil’s wa­ter-hold­ing ca­pac­ity as well as soil health. Poul­try lit­ter is one of the only sources of fer­til­izer for or­ganic grow­ers on the East­ern Shore and in most of Mary­land.

Con­trary to what is be­ing taught, there is not an ex­cess of poul­try lit­ter in Mary­land. There is ac­tu­ally a shortage of or­ganic fer­til­izer. When an­tipoul­try ad­vo­cates say that el­e­vated phos­pho­rus levels in soils near poul­try houses proves there are too many chick­ens in the state, they are wrong. The fact is that sci­en­tific re­searchers ad­vised farm­ers for many years that they should build up phos­pho­rus in the soil. In re­cent years, sci­en­tists have de­ter­mined that there is a sat­u­ra­tion point, after which no more phos­pho­rus can be held by the soil.

In re­sponse to the sci­en­tific find­ings, Mary­land’s Nu­tri­ent Man­age­ment Plan was mod­i­fied to re­quire phos­pho­rus be reg­u­lated and lim­ited in 2006. In 2015, ad­di­tional lim­i­ta­tions were added through the Phos­pho­rus Man­age­ment Tool (PMT). This tool uses the soil P levels, to­pog­ra­phy and the close­ness to wa­ter re­sources to de­ter­mine where P must be lim­ited, or in some cases banned al­to­gether.

Ac­cord­ing to the Mary­land De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture there are 312,393 tons of chicken lit­ter col­lected from Mary­land poul­try farms an­nu­ally. Based on nu­tri­ent man­age­ment reg­u­la­tory cal­cu­la­tions, we would need 156,196 acres of crop land to spread the lit­ter pro­duced each year. There are 469,767 acres on the East­ern Shore that are low in phos­pho­rus and lit­ter el­i­gi­ble. There is three times the needed amount of land just on the East­ern Shore to prop­erly use all the lit­ter pro­duced in Mar yland.

Be­cause of its or­ganic value, poul­try lit­ter is a com­mod­ity that poul­try farm­ers can sell or barter. Poul­try grow­ers also often use the lit­ter as fer­til­izer on their own crop op­er­a­tion for a sig­nif­i­cantly lower cost, and less car­bon foot­print, than trans­port­ing com­mer­cial fer­til­izer.

So what does this mean? If the leg­is­la­ture were to pass a law that re­quired the poul­try com­pa­nies to take all the lit­ter from farm­ers, it would only be mak­ing the com­pany richer. The com­pa­nies would have a valu­able com­mod­ity that they would sell to the high­est bid­der. Tak­ing own­er­ship of poul­try lit­ter from farm­ers only in­creases the cost to pro­duce lo­cal crops and re­duces eco­nomic sta­bil­ity.

For or­ganic farm­ers, poul­try lit­ter is the pri­mary source of fer­til­izer. If they have to bid against farm­ers from across the coun­try for this lit­ter, it could in­crease their fer­til­izer costs to a level that it would not be sus­tain­able to farm or­gan­i­cally.

Not only does Mary­land have the most com­pre­hen­sive and re­stric­tive nu­tri­ent tool in place for our crop farm­ers, but ev­ery com­mer­cial poul­try farm is man­dated to have a zero-dis­charge per­mit to make sure no nu­tri­ents from that farm runoff into any stream. When you cou­ple the poul­try grower’s zero-dis­charge per­mit with the crop farmer’s man­dated Nu­tri­ent Man­age­ment Plan re­stric­tions, the like­li­hood of nu­tri­ents from poul­try lit­ter get­ting into the Bay are ex­tremely un­likely.

New leg­is­la­tion is not needed. Stu­dents should be en­light­ened about the great work al­ready ac­com­plished by Mary­land farm­ers.

Chuck Fry is pres­i­dent of Mary­land Farm Bureau and owner/op­er­a­tor of Rocky Point Farm and Rocky Point Cream­ery in Tus­carora, Md.


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