By Mannix Porterfield
Rising fertilizer costs led some West Virginia farmers to turn to chicken litter as a means of feeding their soil with vital nutrients, and this in turn prompted a clash with commercial poultry breeders, says Deputy Agriculture Commissioner Robert Tabb.
Hopefully, he said, that conflict can be resolved, once a temporary rule becomes a permanent one in a bill recommended Monday by the Senate Agriculture and Rural Development Committee.
Essentially, the rule bans the introduction of such litter to within 1 mile of commercial breeding operations, Senate counsel Noelle Starek explained.
“Such farms adhere to strict bio-security programs to prevent introduction of pathogens from other poultry or animals,” she told the committee.
The rule also covers the introduction of swine manure and primarily targets the breeding facilities in Greenbrier County, the attorney explained.
Tabb said the breeder industry is worth about $20 million annually in the state, using birds flown in mostly from England.
“I feel like this was a reasonable approach to have a reasonable level of bio-security for these operations but also not to eliminate the economic opportunity for farmers in the area to utilize poultry litter as a flexible source,” he told the committee.
Tabb said fertilizer prices have shot up dramatically in recent years so farmers turned to chicken litter, along with organic matter, as “a reasonable source” of fertilizer to provide adequate nitrogen and phosphorous.
“If the price of fertilizer hadn’t tripled over the last five years, this litter wouldn’t be hauled in from the distances it’s being hauled right now,” he said.
“That’s what has been the driving force of this.”
Starek said the commercial breeders fear the introduction of salmonella, microplasms and Avian flu.
Primary breeders produce the first three generations of birds, known as pedigree, great-grandparent and grandparent stock, she explained.
“These birds are used to produce the fourth generation known as parent, or multiplier stock, which produces the fifth generation birds, bred for marketing,” she told the committee. “Breeding turkeys may also be easily infected with viruses from swine which result in immediate and drastic cessation of egg production.”
The rule forbids any swine manure in the area and says poultry litter transported from any area must be properly composted for 30 days with testing required by the Department of Agriculture.
Tabb said swine manure is taboo because of the pathogens associated with it.
As for poultry litter, one panelist wanted to know if there is any way to confirm that the supply being shipped is the same as that which was tested.
“We won’t be sending escorts with the trucks,” Tabb said. “Certificates will be issued by the state veterinarian to the source of the litter prior to it being shipped.”
Tabb suggested the rule isn’t popular with anyone in the farming community.
“I don’t know anybody that’s real happy with it, whether it be primary operators, or the folks wanting to sell litter,” he added.
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