Poultry Litter 101: Education Helps Improve Storage and Application
Fertilizer costs have doubled in the last 10 years pushing producers to look for alternatives, such as poultry litter, to improve soil fertility. While this practice is more economical, it also has the potential for odor and water quality issues within the state if producers are not taught proper methods of field application and storage.
K-State Research and Extension partners with other organizations and agencies to develop a producer education program that promotes best management practices to deal with poultry litter — a mixture of poultry manure and bedding material such as sawdust, wood shavings, or rice hulls.
When used correctly, poultry litter can "provide a significant and important supply of nutrients for crop production in areas of Kansas where the supply of litter is available," said Doug Shoup, southeast Kansas crops and soils specialist.
Source of poultry litter
Kansas is not considered a major poultry producing state, but neighboring states Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma rank among the largest poultry producers in the United States.
Environmental concerns have decreased the acreage available to receive poultry litter in these states and led to an increase in transportation of poultry litter into the southeast area of Kansas. A 2012 Kansas Farm Bureau (KFB) fact sheet states that an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 tons of litter are exported to Kansas annually.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) regulates only poultry litter generated by facilities in Kansas. Imported manure does not fall under the state's current regulations.
Concerns about the potential impacts of poultry litter on water quality and odor complaints have resulted in a collaborative effort among K-State Research and Extension, the Kansas Department of Agriculture Division of Conservation, KDHE, Natural Resource Conservation Service, KFB, and agricultural producer organizations in Kansas to educate producers about best management practices (BMPs.)
The Kansas approach
Kansas' current approach to the use of poultry litter imported from surrounding states is a voluntary, incentive based conservation program using state and federal cost-share dollars.
By pooling resources, the partners increase producer awareness about using poultry litter and promote BMPs that protect water quality.
K-State Research and Extension developed the Poultry Litter 101 education program and a storage site evaluation tool to address two key concerns with poultry litter — proper storage and appropriate application.
Effects on water quality
"If the current voluntary education-based approach is not successful and poultry litter is mismanaged, we could see negative impacts on Kansas water quality," said Peter Tomlinson, K-State environmental quality specialist. "The bigger concern is the potential for a lawsuit from a border state over water quality."
The poultry litter educational programming addresses the basic composition, fertilizer value, and BMPs that minimize the risk of nutrient runoff and odor from the storage and land application.
Tomlinson said that proper storage of manure is important to prevent runoff contamination of water because of the concentrated nature of the litter. Precipitation runoff from litter piles and from fields can quickly create nutrient overloading in surface waters of Kansas.
The Poultry Litter 101 education program encourages producers to stockpile the litter on sites with minimal slope and water draining into the area. To avoid nuisance complaints, storage should occur away from homes and frequently used structures. Covering the stockpile can help prevent the volatilization of nitrogen, thereby preserving the maximum value of the product.
The site evaluation tool developed by K-State Research and Extension provides producers with a metric to evaluate the suitability of potential storage sites and takes into consideration site conditions such as proximity and slope to water ways, soil type, size and type of buffer, and distance to neighboring homes and water wells.