DPI Executive Director Remarks at Waterkeepers Alliance Poultry Summit
DPI Executive Director Bill Satterfield Prepared Remarks
November 1, 2007
Waterkeeper Alliance Poultry Summit
Thanks for the invitation. We appreciate the opportunity to share information about Delmarva’s chicken industry and to hear common sense ideas on how all of us can help with water quality improvements.
As I speak today, I will be speaking about the chicken industry that raises birds for meat, not the chicken industry that produces eggs for human consumption. Nearly 2,000 farm families raise chickens on the Delmarva Peninsula for the four poultry companies. These families own the land and the chicken houses. They are not poultry company employees. They have contracts with the chicken companies to raise the companies’ birds. In most cases, these farm families do not have non-family members involved in their businesses. Though some farms are structured as corporations for tax purposes, they truly are family operations and are not industrial-strength, corporate owned factories as some of today’s organizers would have you believe. Our growers are farm families and should not be demonized as factory farms.
In the next few minutes, I will share some data about the chicken industry and water quality and talk about some of the many things we are doing to help with environmental protection.
We in chicken industry get a lot of blame for problems in the Chesapeake Bay. I will show that we have made great progress in stewardship in the last ten years. I am not a scientist or researcher, so during this presentation I will depend upon data from the U.S. EPA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Maryland Department of the Environment, the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, local universities, and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. After hearing these facts, I believe you will agree with me that
“It’s Not Necessarily Us” that’s the big contributor of Chesapeake Bay nutrients. Even the news media alert for today’s function contained questionable statements. For instance, it included this comment. “Agricultural runoff, largely made up of chicken waste, is the greatest source of pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.”
But if you look at EPA Chesapeake Bay Program data, shown as Figure1-5 in the September 10, 2007 EPA report “Development Growth Outpacing Progress in Watershed Efforts to Restore the Chesapeake Bay”, you’ll see that agriculture trails human-caused contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus to the Bay in 2005, and by human caused contributions I include the Bay Program Office categories of wastewater, septic, mixed open, and urban runoff. Those four categories are larger than agriculture for nitrogen, by a margin of 44% for the human-caused activities versus 40% for agriculture, and for phosphorus, by a margin of 52% for human-caused activities versus 45% for agriculture.
Let’s put Delmarva’s poultry industry into perspective regarding the Chesapeake Bay watershed and our contributions to bay nutrients. Here is a map of the Delmarva Peninsula. It includes 3 counties of Delaware, 9 on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, and two on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Commercial broiler chickens are not raised in one county in each state on Delmarva; thus we have only 11 Delmarva counties with broiler chicken production.
Here’s a map of the entire watershed. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the amount of land in these 11 Delmarva chicken producing counties makes up just 7.7% of the 64,000 square mile Bay watershed.
Just 7.7% and only about half of Accomack County, Virginia and just 1/3 of Delaware drains to the Chesapeake Bay, so the amount of land in our chicken growing area is relatively small.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the sources of water going to the Bay. This is important to know when you think about where the nutrients are coming from and the role of Delmarva’s chicken industry. Certainly our industry has contributed to Chesapeake Bay pollution. There is no question about that. And as I will discuss toward the end of my presentation, we have been aggressive in recent years in correcting our behavior and working hard to avoid future pollution, but let’s focus on the big picture and not on one small segment.
The 1999 U.S. Geological Survey study entitled “Monitoring Nutrients in the Major Rivers Draining to Chesapeake Bay” looked at the nine largest rivers flowing to the Bay. This study has not been updated, but there is really no reason to expect the data to be much different today than 8 years ago,
The report concluded, “Collectively, the Susquehanna, the Potomac, and the James Rivers contributed about 95% of the annual nitrogen load and about 87% of the annual phosphorus load from the nine major rivers draining to Chesapeake Bay from 1990 through 1998.” These data, collected through the River Input Monitoring Program, measured nutrients that entered the tidal part of the Chesapeake Bay Basin from its 9 largest tributaries.
The Choptank River, the smallest of the 9, the only one on the Delmarva Peninsula, and a river near lots of chicken houses, contributed less than 1% of the stream flow, the total nitrogen load, and the total phosphorus load according to this study.
Take a look at the chart and see where the nutrients are coming from. Certainly not from the Delmarva Peninsula.
Let’s focus a moment on just Maryland agriculture and Maryland agriculture’s contributions to Bay nutrients. In correspondence to me in June of last year, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation indicated that agricultural lands in all of Maryland, not just on the Eastern shore, constituted just 5% of the land in the Bay watershed and contributed only 7.75% of the entire nitrogen load to the Bay. Again, as you think about where nutrients are originating, you have to think about well beyond the Delmarva Peninsula and our chicken industry.
According to a January 2007 report by the Maryland Department of Legislative Services, the District of Columbia and states other than Maryland were responsible for 79% of the nitrogen load into the Bay in 2004 and these non-Maryland sources were responsible for 80% of the phosphorus. Clearly this indicates that any meaningful steps to reduce nutrients reaching the Bay have to be watershed-wide and cannot focus just on Maryland, Maryland agriculture, and Maryland’s poultry industry.
Next I want to put our chicken industry into perspective by citing data from the U.S. EPA’s Chesapeake Bay Program. Quoting from the program’s website, “The human population in the Chesapeake Bay watershed is now growing by more than 170,000 residents annually. Restoration efforts center on reforesting streamside buffers, developing watershed management plans and preserving open space. Partners appear to be on track with many of their watershed protection efforts and are two-thirds of the way toward meeting current program goals, but these efforts appear to be inadequate in stemming the decline in water quality associated with population growth.”
Let’s look at the chart that shows the program’s overall pollution control summary. The top graph indicates, using 1985 as the baseline, that 44% of the nitrogen goal has been achieved. The bottom graph shows 60% of the phosphorus goal has been achieved.
Now, focusing just on agricultural goals, the nitrogen level achievement is about the same as the overall achievement while the phosphorus achievement is slightly behind the overall number. Many people attribute the better phosphorus number in the overall chart to the ban on phosphate detergents. The improvements that the chicken industry are making in reducing phosphorus in the manure will show up in the coming years due to the lag time for subsurface water flow. As you know, most of Delmarva is flat and nutrient flow to the Bay and its tributaries is most likely through ground water rather than lateral runoff on the soil surface.
According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the age of ground water in shallow aquifers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed ranges from less than one year to more than 50 years, with a median age of 10 years, so water moves slowly underground. Agriculture is making progress in water stewardship, but probably not as rapidly as many of you would like, and it will take years for the improvements to show up in the Bay. We did not get here overnight and the improvements will not appear overnight.
Now, let’s look at urban/suburban lands’ pollution controls. The top graph is nitrogen and the bottom graph is phosphorus. Quoting from the EPA website, “it is estimated that the pollution increases associated with land development (e.g. converting farms and forests to urban/suburban developments) have surpassed the gains achieved from improved landscape design and stormwater management practices.
The rapid rate of population growth and related residential and commercial development has made this pollution sector the only one in the Bay watershed to still be growing, and thus “progress” is negative.”
Since 1985, there has been a negative 90% in achieving the 2010 nitrogen goal in urban/suburban areas and a negative 67% for phosphorus. My point in showing these data is that agriculture is moving in the right direction and the pandemic of development is causing most of the problems.
Quoting from a U.S. Geological Survey report, “Increasing human populations and the associated land-use changes continue to be the primary factors causing water quality and habitat degradation in the Bay and its watershed.”
Again quoting from the EPA website, “In part because they are so cost-effective, the Bay jurisdictions are relying on future reductions from agricultural lands for more than half of the remaining nutrient reductions needed to meet restoration goals.” If the chicken industry is driven out of business because of unreasonable regulation or non-cost effective intervention strategies and the thousands of regional farms that supply our industry with corn and soybeans are without customers, then more farmland will be converted to other uses and the situation will worsen. Agriculture is willing to help our urban/suburban partners achieve water quality goals, but that will not be accomplished by driving farm families out of business. It can be done through cooperation, not coercion.
Let’s look at the human population again. This EPA chart shows the population increase in the watershed since 1950.
Added to it are DPI data showing the increase in Delmarva broiler chicken production.
And here are the Maryland broiler chicken numbers. In recent years the human population has gone up while chicken production has been on a decline. Human population up….pollution up.
And for those of you who believe agricultural land contributes more pollution than urban areas, let me mention remarks made by Dr. Bob Summers, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment, at a meeting of the Maryland Board of Public Works in May 2007. In a discussion about nitrogen inputs into the land from developed land and agricultural land, he provided data showing that agricultural lands contribute from 20 to 25% less nitrogen than from developed lands, another reason to keep farmland as farmland.
Other objective observers, such as the EPA Chesapeake Bay Program, express concern about municipal wastewater plants, septic systems, and storm water runoff from urban and suburban development, as well as agricultural runoff. As the Chesapeake Bay Program puts it, “Among the major land use categories, urban and suburban lands contribute, per acre, the largest amount of nutrients to the Bay when septic and wastewater treatment plant discharges are factored in. Runoff from farms is generally declining as farmers adopt nutrient management and runoff control techniques, and because the overall amount of farmland is declining.” Runoff from farms is generally declining!
Another data source is The Bay Journal, January 2007 edition.
Comparing the baseline year of 1985 with the present, an analysis of those numbers for the Eastern Shore shows a 27% decline in non point nitrogen into the Bay, and non point includes agricultural lands, while point source contributions are up. Non point phosphorus and point source phosphorus are down for reasons I mentioned earlier.
Comparing the Eastern Shore data with the other regions, we can conclude that none of the other watersheds; Susquehanna, Potomac, James, Western Shore, Rappahannock, York, and Patuxent, had as large a nitrogen non point source decline and phosphorus non point source decline as did Delmarva. In other words, the poultry-dominated agriculture on the Delmarva Peninsula is leading the way and doing its part in reducing N & P contributions to the Bay.
A relatively new EPA report on development growth in the Bay watershed makes some interesting observations about the importance of the chicken and agricultural industries to Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.
This September document says, quote “From 1985 to 2005, EPA estimated loads from developed land sources increased up to 16% while loads from wastewater disposal and agriculture decreased.” Unquote. Urban up…agriculture down.
“New development is increasing nutrient and sediment loads at rates faster than restoration efforts are reducing them.” Once again, evidence that our farm families are part of the solution and an increasing non-farm population is not.
“Little progress has been reported in reaching nutrient and sediment load reduction goals from developed lands.” Can we achieve our 2010 goals if agriculture goes out of business and is replaced by urban and developed lands? I don’t think so and neither should you.
Farmland helps filter water. Impervious surfaces don’t. There has been a significant increase in impervious surfaces in recent years throughout the watershed. In the 1990s, impervious surfaces increased by 41% while the human population grew by just 8%…
and in those same years the percentage increase of Delmarva chicken house capacity trailed the overall increase in impervious surfaces.
and let me mention one very eye-opening report. These data come from the MDE website. They contain combined sewer overflows, sanitary sewer overflows, and wastewater treatment plant bypasses reported to the Maryland Department of the Environment. Although the department has required that all public sewer system owners or operators report overflows to it, the department website says there may be incidents that were not reported.
Through the end of August of this year, MDE’s data show that there were 166 million gallons of combined sewer overflows throughout the state in 2007 while volume for sanitary sewer overflows totaled 24 million gallons in the first 8 months of this year. Bypasses exceeded 17 million gallons. That’s an incredible amount of wastewater and sewage going into Maryland’s rivers and streams and with eventually much of that flowing to the Chesapeake Bay.
207 million gallons of pollution in just 8 months from non poultry and non agricultural sources. Amazing!!!!! What is the saying…Like the pot calling the kettle black?
So as we conclude with a look at the Delmarva poultry industry’s relatively small role in Bay pollution, let’s take a look at this slide. In the top half of the chart with bars to the right, you see the positive contributions of agriculture related to nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment and on the bottom half you see the negative impacts of urban/suburban practices. These are not Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. data. They are EPA data. I ask you, who is helping the environment of the Bay and who is not?
So, what have we in the chicken industry been doing?
Well, quite a bit. Our Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia chicken growers have more restrictive rules on manure handling and land application of nutrients than most farmers in the watershed. Let me repeat that.
Our Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia chicken growers have more restrictive rules on manure handling and land application of nutrients than most farmers in the watershed. Not necessarily more stringent than other farmers in Maryland and Delaware, but more stringent than many farmers in the other watershed states. New state laws in Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia in 1998 and 1999 began to require nutrient management plans for all poultry growers and most other farmers on the Delmarva Peninsula.
Starting with the Maryland Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998, all commercial farmers in the state; chicken farmers and grain farmers and others; have been required to have state certified nutrient management plans. The law applies to Maryland farmers grossing $2,500 or more annually or raising 8,000 pounds or more of live animal weight. They are required to run their operations using a nutrient management plan that addresses both nitrogen and phosphorus inputs. The Nutrient Management Program oversees a licensing and certification program for consultants, compliance activities, and education and training programs.
Similarly, the Delaware General Assembly enacted a sweeping nutrient management law the following year that requires many of the same things as Maryland. Delaware farmers who control the application of nutrients to 10 acres or greater and/or manage Animal Feeding Operations with greater than 8 animal units are covered.
In 1999, the Commonwealth of Virginia enacted House Bill 1207, a law affecting commercial poultry farms, but it did not include all other commercial farms like Maryland and Delaware did. Poultry farms were required to have a Virginia Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit. Today, there is an effort underway in Virginia to expand the pool of farmers who must have and use nutrient management plans so they become more in line with the requirements of Virginia poultry growers. My point here is that Virginia poultry growers have more nutrient management requirements than most other farmers in the commonwealth.
In contrast to the our Delmarva poultry growers, tens of thousands of Pennsylvania farms are not required to have state certified nutrient management plans at all. Pennsylvania farmers who generate or use manure do have government requirements, but farmers who do not generate or use manure do not have to have government sanctioned/certified/required nutrient management plans.
In recent weeks, there have been renewed criticisms about the effectiveness of the Maryland program and poultry’s contributions to bay pollution.
According to the Maryland Department of Agriculture, only six counties in the state have 100% program compliance and where do you think they are? On the Eastern Shore. And the other two Eastern Shore counties are at 99% and this is due in part because the poultry companies require their growers to have nutrient management plans. At the bottom of the list is Prince George’s County where no commercial chickens are grown.
One way to reduce the amount of nutrients coming out the rear end of the birds is to keep the feed in them and converted into meat.
The more feed used by the birds means less manure coming out.
This is called feed conversion and right now in Delmarva chickens, on average, it takes less than two pounds of feed to make one pound of meat and this is done, I might add,
without the use of hormones. It is not legal in the United States to feed hormones to commercially raised chickens.
Since 1998, there has been a 7.6% improvement in feed conversion and that means more nutrients staying in the birds and not being in the manure.
According to University of Maryland Assistant Professor Roselina Angel, between 1959 and 2001, there was a 75% reduction in N & P excreted from broiler chickens. That is a remarkable accomplishment for our chicken industry.
One way phosphorus excreta have been reduced is through the use of an enzyme called Phytase. The naturally occurring phosphorus in corn is in a form that the birds easily cannot absorb. So, to make up for this non usable phosphorus, supplemental phosphorus was added to the diet to give them what they need for healthy bones and proper growth.
Phytase changes the naturally occurring phosphorus in the corn so it is better absorbed by the birds, and thus the need to add phosphorus is reduced. Less phosphorus in…less phosphorus out.
Since Delmarva’s poultry companies began using Phytase about 7 years ago, there has been about a 30% reduction in phosphorus coming out the rear ends of the chickens. According to the University of Delaware, Phytase and other nutrient management practices in Delaware since 1999 have resulted in a reduction in the phosphorus load to the Delaware environment of some 2 to 3 million pounds per year. The same situation exists in Maryland.
Research continues on Phytase to learn if it, in combination with other ingredients, can work to cause even further phosphorus reductions.
Since it is not possible to prevent all nutrient-containing excreta, programs are in place to help farm families with excess manure send it to areas where farmers with nutrient management plans can use it.
Our local poultry companies, voluntarily, have provided the state of Maryland with more than two million dollars since 1999 to help with transportation expenses.
Operating through the Maryland Department of Agriculture, more than 252,000 tons of Maryland poultry litter have been transported.
Delaware’s program has moved more than 350,000 tons since 2001.
And before we go any further, let’s put this whole manure issue into context. Unfortunately, the discussion is on tons of litter/manure rather than on the quantity of nutrients contained in the litter.
According to litter analyses done by the Delaware Department of Agriculture, and there is no reason to believe Maryland litter and Virginia litter is much different than Delaware litter,
only about 4 to 5 percent of the litter is nitrogen; only about 2 to 3 percent is phosphorus; while the greatest amount of material in the litter is organic material. Healthy organic material applied to largely sandy soils on the Delmarva Peninsula. The addition of this organic material improves the soils’ characteristics and helps with plant growth. It also helps retain soil water and in dry years like this one that is good news for farmers. Research has clearly shown that poultry litter to cropland increases yield compared to the chemical fertilizer when applied at the same rates of N, P & K.
Many poultry farms do not also grow crops.
Perdue Farms Inc. in 2001 stepped forward and has invested $30 million to help these chicken producers and growers with land who could not use their litter on their own property.
Without charge, Perdue AgriRecycle accepts chicken manure from all companies’ growers to make an organic pelleted product.
Much of this has been transported out of the local watersheds.
As you can see, this program has been a tremendous benefit to chicken growers and to local waters of the United States. Just look at the huge quantities of nutrients moved out of the Delmarva watershed in the last four years. And let me give you more data.
During Perdue’s last fiscal year that ended in April, the company sold 44,000 tons of finished, pelleted products.
31,000 of those 44,000 tons were sold in states other than New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, and West Virginia. So 70% of the product was shipped outside of the Chesapeake Bay watershed and outside of any portion of any of the states in the watershed. That is a very aggressive way to help with environmental protection in our region. In fact, in an agreement signed a couple of years ago with the Governor of Maryland, all the poultry companies pledged to help their growers find off-the-farm outlets for excess manure.
Another opportunity to move Delmarva poultry litter out of our area we just learned about last week. The West Virginia Department of Agriculture has been working with the Maryland Department of Agriculture about getting poultry litter for land reclamation projects in the coal mining regions of the Mountaineer State. MDA is working with our poultry companies on this inquiry. This offers a lot of potential, especially since the coal companies likely could pay all the costs.
Another alternative use of litter is fuel in the production of electricity.
We read with interest the other day about Attorney General Gansler’s comments at a Baltimore meeting about the possibility of a large-scale manure-burning power plant coming to Maryland. The newspaper attributed to him these words
“We have a site. We have a plan” to build a plant to convert chicken manure into power. We’d be interested in learning more about what is going on with this. It was looked at seriously about 9 years ago, but a Fibrowatt plant was not built because of the high cost of building the plant, the tremendous financial liability the state of Maryland could have faced, the difficulty in finding a buyer for the higher-than-market price electricity that would be produced, and because of the likely shortage of chicken litter to fuel the plant. If things have changed, this could be another option for our growers. We look forward to learning more about it.
Delmarva’s chicken industry spent a lot of time a few years ago studying the possibility of having manure-burning, electric-producing units at poultry company facilities.
Allen Family Foods announced plans to operate a unit at its Hurlock, Maryland chicken processing plant, but unfortunately the technology supplier was unable to deliver what had been agreed upon. That unit did not get built.
A few years later, Allen’s worked hard to have a manure-burning unit constructed at its Linkwood, Maryland protein conversion plant. Allen’s got approval from the Maryland Department of the Environment, but the Dorchester County commissioners stopped the project. Without their approval, the unit could not be operated.
A few years ago, Tyson Foods, Inc. announced plans to build a manure-burning power-generating unit at its complex on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. That project died because the contractor went bankrupt, Tyson could not get enough growers to commit their litter to the plant, and because there was resistance in Accomack County.
Our companies have tried to find practical, economically-sound options for manure handling, but in two instances the county governments have not embraced them.
In Delaware, a 2000 law prohibits the burning of manure to produce electricity except on farms where the manure originated or from the adjacent farm. These types of obstacles need to be overcome if creative alternatives will ever exist.
We are very proud of a fairly new DPI program, the Vegetative Environmental Buffers project. This is a voluntary, first-of-its-kind in the nation program to encourage poultry growers on Delmarva to plant trees and shrubs around their chicken houses.
Funded by the poultry companies, DPI, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we are working with growers to have designed buffers planted around chicken houses to capture air emissions and to take up nutrients already in the soil. Because the plants will be small when planted, it will take several years for some species to begin their job of air emissions improvements, but one variety of willow we are working with has the potential to grow 12 feet in the first year, so immediately it can work on air quality improvements. And regardless of the size, all the trees and shrubs will be absorbing soil and water nutrients immediately. Our organization and the poultry companies are promoting this to existing farm families growing chickens as well as to new growers. The response has been very positive.
And Attorney General Gansler, we’d love to discuss with you and your staff how money from the American Electric Power Service Corporation Clean Air Act settlement last month can be used to help Maryland poultry growers take advantage of our buffer program
Another practice to reduce airborne emissions is the use of ammonia suppression products in the chicken houses. Poultry growers, poultry companies, and USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service are spending money to buy these products that bind the ammonia in the houses. These products prevent nitrogen, an ingredient in ammonia, from getting into the atmosphere. So the bound nitrogen stays in the litter; litter that then is handled using nutrient management plans.
Our poultry growers have been big time users of state and federal cost-share programs to help them install stewardship practices such as manure storage buildings, manure storage pads, end-of-the-chicken house concrete pads to help minimize litter getting into the soils, and carcass composters.
Chicken producers, like many other family farmers, are not in a get-rich-quick business, in fact they are price takers instead of price makers, and most times the installation of environmental practices yields no positive financial return to their operations, so these cost share programs have been
and will remain essential to help them do the right environmental things. Farmers provide out-of-pocket money with state or federal assistance. These are wonderful programs that need to be continued and expanded.
Much of the nitrogen reaching our waterways is due to atmospheric deposition. The recent EPA Office of Inspector General report on development growth states that about 1/3 of the nitrogen delivered to the Bay comes from mobile and stationary air emissions sources, such as automobiles and power plants. But before I talk about how our growers are helping reduce the generation of airborne particles, let me make sure you understand one unfairness in this area. The air-delivered component of the nitrogen load shown in this report’s data is included with each land use area on which it falls and since agricultural land throughout the Bay’s 64,000 square mile watershed is so large, naturally a lot of this air-delivered pollution falls on farmland. Is it really fair to count this among agriculture’s pollution contributions since the farmers have absolutely no control over this source of nitrogen? I don’t know how many other reports and data sets penalize agriculture for air-delivered nitrogen, but it’s not realistic and not fair to credit those air-delivered nutrients to agriculture or to any other land use. The air deposition numbers need to be kept as a separate category.
Lower energy consumption leads to lower air pollution and our growers are working to reduce electric consumption.
Growers are constantly being reminded to keep their equipment clean. Dust-free chicken house fans are more energy efficient;
thus lowering their need for electricity.
There is a major research project being conducted by the University of Delaware on an Allen’s Hatchery, Inc. farm on the use of solar power for chicken houses. If solar technology can be adopted, then less power will be needed from coal generation power plants.
Growers are switching to lower energy light bulbs and some of the poultry companies are helping growers finance those purchases.
Solid wall housing helps keep propane-generated heat inside and this reduces the need for propane consumption while also reducing air emissions.
Our poultry companies are helping growers with on-farm environmental audits and with technical assistance. Perdue Farms has entered into a voluntary agreement with the EPA to help producers comply with federal, state and local environmental regulations.
Recently, DPI worked with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service to develop a checklist that poultry company personnel can use on their regular farm visits to help identify and address stewardship weaknesses so improvements can be made.
Before Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc. got out of the business of funding university research projects about five years ago, primarily because the small amount of money that we had could not keep pace with the rising costs of such work, our organization, along with grants from the poultry companies,
spent more than $326,000 from 1998 to 2000 on environmentally related scientific investigation
These projects, coordinated through DPI’s Research Advisory Committee, were in addition to countless dollars that the poultry companies spent in-house on environmental research.
One project being supported by state and federal taxpayers that could have environmental benefits is the so-called “Chicken House of the Future”. Work at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore will be done on a new design for chicken houses that could eliminate the need for wood-based bedding material. Additionally, potentially drier conditions in the house could reduce ammonia production. Progress on getting the campus facilities ready for the research has been slower than anticipated, but some small trials have taken place.
It is hoped the first full flock of birds on the new plastic flooring will be placed early next year. We’re very much interested in this research and await some results so we can learn if this will be practical for our industry. If it works, then no wood bedding material for these houses would be needed and handling of the excreta should be easier.
Just last week, our organization’s Grower Committee learned about a new process of recycling and treating used litter/manure through in-house composting which is a biological heating process. It is important to understand that the wood bedding material plus the manure is not cleaned out after each flock. Instead, depending upon the poultry company, the litter can be reused for several years. You need to keep this in mind when you hear numbers like one billion pounds of manure produced annually. Just because it is produced does not mean it has to be moved anywhere or even is available to be removed from the chicken houses.
The program announced last week involves the in-house composting of the litter between flocks to rejuvenate it. Not only are there chicken production benefits, but also environmental benefits.
By re-conditioning the litter, the need to remove and store a portion of the manure after each flock is eliminated. This system will allow growers more flexibility in cleaning out their houses. It avoids the need for on-farm and field stockpiling and land applying it according to a nutrient management plan and it allows land application at a time of year when crops can best utilize these nutrients.
Already one poultry company has started using this system and is investing money in equipment to make it happen. And to help it gain peninsula-wide acceptance, the Delaware Nutrient Management Commission has funded research to compare the nutrient management and production benefits of in-house composting compared to conventional litter management with an ultimate goal of validating it for possible cost-share assistance. This is a very positive development.
One of the most significant environmental benefits the chicken industry provides is the preservation of working farms. Thanks to the chicken industry, there is a built-in market for locally produced corn and soybeans. In a normal year, Delmarva farmers do not grow enough corn to feed our birds, so farmers throughout the region benefit from the chicken company corn purchases. In fact, local corn farmers are paid more for corn than Midwest farmers are paid.
Without the chicken industry and these higher than national corn payments, many Chesapeake Bay watershed farmers would be unable to stay in business. And don’t think a replacement corn purchaser, such as an ethanol plant, would need the volume of corn as the chicken industry needs or would be willing to pay as much.
Low or no profitability helps convince grain farmers to go out of business. With rising land prices and higher costs of living in other areas of the nation, many people want to move to Delmarva. Their desire to move, combined with farmers not making money, leads many local landowners to sell. A transition from farmland to developed land likely will mean higher polluting residential and commercial development coming to our region. Our friends in the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have recognized the benefits of working farms and we hope all of you do also. Remember that every time a regulated acre of farmland is removed from agricultural production, a non-regulated acre is created and homeowners can put down as much fertilizer as they want. They’re not required to have nutrient management plans. In fact, it’s not just those in the environmental industry who are concerned about the loss of farmland.
A recent “1,000 Friends of Maryland” study indicated that the public at large has concerns about the rapid loss of farmland.
There are some people who believe that Maryland poultry growers need to have government issued, industrial strength permits to be able to grow food. Why?
Maryland farm families already are required to adhere to the state nutrient management program and the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998.
What benefit is there to the citizens of Maryland and the waters of the state by requiring a duplicative permitting program? These type permits are for factories. They should not be required for family farms. A handful of vocal critics of our industry believe farm families should be required to share with the public some of their business and operating plans. Why? How does the public’s knowledge of that business data improve water quality? Maryland has a mandatory nutrient management law. The Maryland Department of Agriculture a month ago announced a stepped-up compliance and enforcement program. Said Secretary of Agriculture Roger Richardson, “We are now at the point where a stronger level of enforcement is necessary to assure that all farmers are complying and the environmental objectives of the law are met.” If the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1998 is enforced, why are other laws needed? The state of Maryland has tools in place to encourage or even force environmental improvements. They should be used before new procedures are enacted.
And with Maryland facing a huge budget challenge, where is the state going to get the money and the army of trained personnel to conduct inspections on who-knows-how-many farms?
Left largely unsaid today is the role of oysters in Bay improvement. A hundred years ago the Bay was replete with oysters. In fact, there were so many that some oyster reefs posed a navigational hazard. It took about 3 days for all water in the Bay to be filtered clean. Now, it takes more than a year. And why, because of the disappearance of the oysters, a disappearance caused by parasites, pollution, and loss of habitat; in part caused by pollution, and natural predators. Today’s populations are at about 1% of their historic levels. Oysters love algae, a natural byproduct of nutrients. So if there is nothing eating the algae, such as oysters, then the algae proliferate. A recent open house at the University of Maryland Horn Point laboratory made that quite evident. There were 3 tanks. In the one take with just water and algae, the water was thick and green. Tank number 2 contained the same water and 5 oysters. It was much cleaner. The third tank had 25 oysters and it was clear just a short while after the oysters were added. Oysters help filter water and the lack of oysters in the Bay, largely ignored during today’s presentations, is a major reason why our Bay is not recovering from decades of pollution. While the chicken industry is not involved in oyster research and replenishment, it is an area that needs a stronger emphasis. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we stop our other pollution reduction programs, but let’s make sure than a proven solution is not ignored.
So, in conclusion let me summarize the importance of the chicken industry to environmental protection.
I’ve shown data that indicate that the Delmarva Peninsula poultry industry is a minor contributor to Bay nutrients.
The growth in the human being population and the commercial and residential development of farmland is offsetting the achievement of water improvement goals.
Our industry has made significant improvements in environmental protection programs.
Research continues on ways to do things better regarding nutrients, whether it is in housing, or diet, or other ways.
We have demonstrated our commitment toward soil and water stewardship and we will continue to be part of the solution.
But a lot of chicken people are concerned that they will be asked to make disproportionate sacrifices to help with water quality improvement while others will be not pulling their load.
Before I close, let me call your attention to the September 2007 edition of the Bay Journal newspaper. In it, our next speaker, Gerald Winegrad, has a column that makes some compelling arguments to help the Bay. I agree with his conclusion that
population growth and related sprawl development will have to be much better controlled. He also wrote that mandatory nutrient management and other nutrient and sediment pollution controls will need to be implemented on the vast majority of Bay watershed farmland.
As I said a few moments ago, all chicken farmers on the Delmarva Peninsula are required to have and comply with nutrient management plans and their situation is much different than the vast majority of farmers in the Bay watershed and well beyond what the growing number of homeowners are required to do.
I am convinced that if others in the 64,000 square mile Chesapeake Bay watershed had been as proactive on environmental issues in recent years and as aggressive as the Delmarva poultry industry in working on water quality issues, things would not remain as challenging as they are and we would not be here today.