A Real Solution
One of the largest challenges the industry currently faces is recycling or repurposing the byproducts of growing chickens. Though much of the focus has been on manure, routine mortality accounts for a great deal of material on Delmarva that must be addressed too – nearly 23,000 tons in 2013. That's about 62 tons of mortality per day.
Originally, this material was disposed of in large pits in the ground behind the chicken houses; however, because of the potential impact on nearby surface and groundwater resources, the industry moved away from pit burial about two decades ago.
Most growers on Delmarva now use composting to manage their routine mortality. When done properly, the closely managed process transforms chicken carcasses into a nutrient-rich compost for farm fields.
The problem, of course, is that we already have more than enough nutrient rich material to spread on farm fields – and unlike chicken manure, alternative uses for compost are limited. Out-of-state mushroom farmers and commercial fertilizer producers don’t want manure with compost in it, so almost all compost is spread on fields.
To make matters worse, composted mortality is higher in phosphorous than manure so pound for pound spreading compost on fields is worse for the environment than spreading manure.
Moving from pit burial to composting was a great step, but ultimately the end result is the same – the nutrient rich material is still having an impact on nearby water resources.
Our management method removes the material from the farm entirely, eliminating the potential for any environmental impact. That’s why our method was found to be 95% more cost effective than the average of all other agricultural BMPs in reducing the more difficult problem – phosphorous – and 53% more cost effective in reducing nitrogen.
In other words, on average, for every dollar spent on those other BMPs, you can get the same impact on phosphorous with this method for only 5 cents.
Our method is not only more cost effective, its impact is more concrete. The effectiveness of other BMPs is difficult to quantify with any certainty. For example, the efficacy of cover crops or vegetative buffers is subject to the variability of site conditions. That’s not the case with our method.
We track the total amount of material we collect and then calculate the exact amount of phosphorous and nitrogen that otherwise would have been spread on a farm field.