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Demonstration Projects with Poultry Growers

America loves chickens. In fact, compared to 30 years ago, more Americans prefer chickens than any other meat at dinnertime.

In 2013, the Poultry Industry in Delmarva produced about 565 million chickens, valued at about $2.8 Billion. Even though demand is high the smaller poultry grower families on Delmarva are struggling to maintain a profit because if the rising cost of heat, electricity and diesel fuel. The contract grower grows for a large chicken integrator. The integrator collects the mature birds and prepares and packages whole chickens or chicken parts for delivery to grocery stores. The Delmarva Poultry Industry, (“DPI”) tracks the rise in cost of production and corresponding retail prices, which rise each year. The average price for chicken parts, or whole broilers at the supermarket doesn’t rise nearly fast enough to keep up with costs over time. So the contract poultry grower struggles to maintain a good profit margin. This year, because of the rising cost of feed meal and diesel fuel, and the changes to the Farm Bill, we will see a spike on the price of chicken at the grocery store. Despite this spike to the consumer at the supermarket, the contract grower may see his margin diminish because of higher operations cost to get the broilers to market. Delmarva is the epicenter of chicken farming with 5 counties in Delaware and Maryland all listed in the Top-50 performing counties in the U. S. There are 4600 chicken houses in Delmarva, each producing an average of 100,000 chickens a year in 4-5 flocks/house. Among the costs for the independent chicken grower the highest annual cost is electricity, with the electric bill for an average farm with three houses, running in excess of $24,000/year. This electric bill rises, depending on the utility, between 3% and 6% every year. Within 10 years the chicken farmer should expect to see his electric bill 50% higher. The charter for the EDEN Project is to promote economic development through renewable energy, energy efficiency, and the recovery and re-use of renewable resources. In the interest of providing the poultry grower with tools to reduce operations cost, EDEN is collaborating with the University of Delaware, The University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and Delaware State University to develop several projects that will create business opportunities for farmers, and assist them to either save on their cost of operations or demonstrate how farmers might increase their income, doing what they already do—raising chickens.

ELCRITON/EDEN Nutrient Recovery Project

The Chesapeake Watershed Improvement Plan cites that nutrient overload comes from a variety of sources, including waste-water treatment plants, food processing plants, residential sub-divisions, storm water retention ponds, septic systems, and agricultural activities. Among these sources, 77% of the excess nutrients in the surface waters leading to the Chesapeake Bay come from agricultural run-off of different types. Because we have an industrial farming culture that focuses on monoculture crops like corn and soybeans, much of the nutrients from agriculture come from petrochemical fertilizer residue that is not taken up into the crops. Another contributor to nutrient overload in surface water and aquifer water is the use of poultry litter as a fertilizer additive. Stormwater ponds and ditches used for water retention at farming operations often have high content of nitrogen and phosphorus from nearby livestock operations.

Environmental watch-dog groups say that poultry growers and integrators are to blame, and the Delmarva Poultry Industry argues that the poultry growers are following the regulations. Decades of nutrient monitoring by the EPA and States governmental agencies say that the nutrients are on the rise, resulting in seasonal algae blooms and oxygen depletion in the Chesapeake Bay. So Delmarva is still seeking a solution to this environmental challenge.

EDEN has teamed up with a group of chemical engineers in a company called Elcriton, Inc. based in New Castle. Elcriton is in the business of growing bacteria and plant life that are used in the manufacture of biofuels and the recovery and re-use of nutrients from waste-water. Together EDEN and Elcriton will be developing nutrient recovery pilot projects at ponds from wastewater treatment plants, (WWTP) and storm water ponds for farm or farm-related sites.

The goal of these pilot projects will be to extract, recover and re-use nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus from surface water. The host WWTP or farmer will be seeking to remove the nutrients from water so that the water is suitable for spray irrigation or other forms of land application for farming. The demonstration will have three components:

  • extraction of nutrients from the surface water at demonstration sites
  • harvesting of biomass containing the nutrients in a protein or starch form
  • marketing of the biomass for its protein content or starch content

Benefits to Host or Farmers: The projects will show that the both the project proponents and the hosts will benefit. The WWTP or farming operation will have surface water that is no-longer nutrient overloaded, enabling the host to land-apply the “treated” water on open fields or spray irrigate feedstock crops not intended for human consumption. If the host is a WWTP it has the benefit of water disposal without harm to the environment. If the host is a farm operation, it has the benefit of water reclamation with a reliable continuous source of water for spray-irrigation.

The benefits to EDEN/Elcriton is that the nutrient rich biomass can be harvested for sale as nitrogen component for the manufacturing of compost, as a component for animal feed, or as sugar-rich component for biofuels manufacturing.

REPLENISH North and South: Creating an alternative soil supplement for truck farmers and an alternative marketplace for poultry growers to sell or barter their commodity—poultry manure.

In the 40 years since the enactment of the Clean Water Act most of the big industrial polluters releasing industrial toxins and other pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay have been detected and eliminated. Despite this sterling record for the States and the Environmental Protection Agency, the surface waters in an around the Chesapeake Bay Watershed continue to suffer seasonal algae blooms and oxygen depletion. Although there are a number of causes for this pollution, the largest contributor is agricultural run-off, which sends flows of about 77% of the excess nutrients into the surface waters leading to the Chesapeake Bay. Some of the flows are the result of the use of petro-chemical fertilizer from the large industrial farming operations, and some of the flows come from the annual practice by smaller grain and produce farmers in using raw poultry manure as a fertilizer additive to save on the cost of operations.

The successful launch of the REPLENISH Program in 2011-2012 helped EDEN to demonstrate how the “Green Circle” works by collaborating with restaurants, (food waste generators) waste haulers, two compost facilities, and certain truck farmers who wanted to switch from chemical fertilizer to an organic fertilizer, or soil supplement, such as compost. Starting in 2013 EDEN and its collaborators will collect table scraps from Resort Area restaurants as well as restaurants in Downtown Newark, and other large food generators. These valuable nurtrients are re-claimed at compost facilities by mixing this organic material with carbon materials (tree branches, prunings, etc.) to deliver nutrient rich compost to horticulture centers and to truck farmers who used the soil supplement to grow the produce for the same local restaurants. Now that the public knows that the nutrient rich compost is an inexpensive way to inject the necessary nutrients into a crop, the demand for nutrient rich soil supplements has increased. In order to meet the increased demand for compost, EDEN and Blue Hen are expanding the REPLENISH Program statewide and starting to include nutrients from poultry manure.

Different from large grain farmers, truck farmers grow fresh produce like peppers, tomatoes, lima beans, cucumbers, and various herbs for cooking. Small farming operations (farms of 10-30 acres) till about 10,000 acres in Delmarva, according to the Delaware’s Department of Agriculture . Over half of these farmers have moved away from the use of petro-chemical fertilizers, with the pure organic farmers leading the pack. Instead, these small farm operations use nutrient rich compost to supplement their soils and as a cost-saving strategy. The truck farmers acquire the compost from two DNREC-regulated commercial composting operations in the north and southern parts of the State. These commercial operations are Peninsula Compost Company in Wilmington, and Blue Hen Organics in Frankford in Sussex County. As more truck farmers try compost the demand for this nutrient rich soil supplement is increasing. EDEN is expanding the REPLENISH Program to include more farmers. To increase the volume of compost at the facility REPLENISH will be working with poultry growers that wish to receive fair market value for their nutrients from poultry manure.

To stimulate the commerce for receiving more nutrients from poultry manure going into compost feedstock and more truck farmers purchasing the nutrient rich end product, REPLENISH will subsidize the first group of poultry farmers and truck farmers doing business with the REPLENISH Program.

EDEN believes that the REPLENISH North and South Program will give poultry growers an alternative source of income for their commodity, and create a much greater volume of nutrients to mix with carbon at the compost facility. The availability of poultry manure will enable the compost facility to provide more nutrient rich soil supplement for small farming operations willing to try to grow produce without chemicals. The end result could be a reduction in the amount of agricultural run-off from Delmarva farms, and possibly the beginning of a recovery for some of the aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.