A group of landowners fighting a proposed Sanderson Farms plant said the amount of dry chicken litter that could be produced from area chicken houses would be improperly handled.
Leaders of the Nash County Landowners Association said they believe the processing plant would produce hundreds of millions of pounds of dry chicken litter per year within a proposed seven county region — Edgecombe, Nash, Halifax, Greene, Lenoir, Wilson, and Wayne counties.
Assertions that the dry chicken litter will generate foul odors also have been circulating.
Sanderson Farms Director of Development Bob Billingsley said the dry litter poultry operations use are deemed permitted. While these operations do not have to apply for permits, there’s a list of general requirements chicken growers must follow.
Billingsley said the company adheres to all state environmental regulations and its contract farmers are required by law to craft a waste management plan. The waste management plan must contain a list of fields that will be used for land application, the crops that will be grown, and the maximum application rate at each field.
“We won’t put chickens on a farm if (growers) don’t have a permit. The bank won’t loan money to farmers if they don’t have a permit,” Billingsley said.
Dry chicken litter can be spread on farm crops as a fertilizer. Once a year, the chicken farmer collects all of the dry litter from the house to spread on the fields as a substitution for fertilizer.
Waste in the North Carolina poultry industry is regulated differently than the swine industry. Pig farmers must have permits for their waste lagoons. Since chicken waste is not wet, a permit is not required.
Nash County Cooperative Extension Director Charlie Tyson said without the benefit of poultry litter, Nash County farmers would be faced with annual soil applications of an estimated 16,000 tons of manufactured fertilizer products on their crop and pasture land.
Tyson also said that in some ways, the fertilizer nutrients contained in poultry litter are superior to and pose less environmental risk than do some manufactured fertilizer products. He said poultry litter is a natural organic source of fertilizer nutrients, and when applied to the soil, poultry litter deteriorates more slowly, with its fertilizer nutrients being not as vulnerable for movement into surface or groundwater when compared to many manufactured fertilizer products.
Poultry litter often is used as a partial substitute for the manufactured fertilizer materials needed for local production of corn, cotton, soybean, wheat and pastures.
“Recent increases in energy costs have caused Nash farmers to experience steep increases in the cost of manufactured fertilizer products,” Tyson said. “Eastern North Carolina agricultural soils are naturally infertile. Profitable crop production will not occur in most of Eastern North Carolina without soil applications of fertilizer nutrients using manufactured fertilizer products and or poultry litter.”
State regulations require poultry waste to be applied at agronomic rates on crop fields or pastures. An agronomic rate is an application rate per acre that does not exceed a growing crop’s ability to capture the fertilizer value of the poultry waste, thus protecting surface waters.
Prior to field application, farmers are required to determine the fertilizer value of their poultry waste with laboratory analysis. When applied to crop fields and pastures, the dry chicken litter usually consists of waste and wood shavings.
Farmers only can apply animal waste or chicken litter on fields or pastures where a growing crop exists or where a growing crop will be planted in 30 days. Chicken farmers also can sell their dry litter to third parties to use as fertilizer.
A majority of the chicken growers in Nash County already contract with Perdue and Braswell Milling Co. out of Nashville. Billingsley said he doesn’t know how many chicken houses will come to Nash County as a result of the proposed plant.
A Sanderson Farms poultry facility would need 24 pullet houses, 48 hen houses and close to 500 broiler houses to stay supplied, Billingsley said. The Kinston poultry plant uses about 360 broiler houses, and 30 percent to 40 percent of the houses come out of Jones, Duplin, Pitt, Sampson and Lenoir counties.
There haven’t been any grower recruitment meetings yet for the proposed plant, but Billingsley said Nash County would be the last place Sanderson Farms would look because of the distance from the feed mill in Kinston and transportation costs.