Farmer-led chicken litter report released

Staff Writer

PRINCESS ANNE, Md. (Aug. 11, 2015) — A report released last week outlined a farmer-led way forward for managing nutrient pollution on the Delmarva Peninsula and issued a challenge through which goals laid out in the report might be accomplished by 2025.
Ernie Shea of Natural Resource Solutions LLC in Lutherville, Md., was first on the agenda at the Mid-Atlantic Precision Agriculture Equipment Day Aug. 5 at Somerset County Civic Center.
Shea has worked with ag leaders across the nation for more than three decades. He served as chief executive officer of the National Association of Conservation Districts from 1986 to 2004.
Now president of Solutions from the Land, Shea explained that the report, entitled “New Approaches to Poultry Litter Management in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed: Win-Win Pathways for Agriculture and the Bay,” was the result of a year-long effort by a coalition of grain producers, chicken growers, poultry integrators, conservationists, academic partners, and agribusiness, finance and service providers.
Impetus for the project came from the Keith Campbell Foundation for the Environment, which wanted to get farmer groups together to work toward a solution to the pollution. Founded in 1998 by Keith Campbell, an investment manager, the foundation gives almost exclusively to environmental causes.
“We agreed, on one condition,” Shea said, “that we, not the funder, would guide the project. It was a self-directed team, and I was their staffer.”
The effort began with a long-term look at how to get out of the constant battle over how to manage farm operations, Shea said. “Farmers are not the problem,” he emphasized. “We want to turn the page, to be valued and compensated.” Later he added, “We are tired of being victims.”
One goal of the “Delmarva Land & Litter Challenge” is that growers will be rewarded for producing high value food, feed and fiber as well as clean energy and ecosystem services such as clean water, flood control, nutrient recycling carbon sequestration and provisioning of habitat.
Shea said currently farmers are expected to provide these benefits without compensation.
Another goal is that Delmarva agriculture becomes regionally neutral in importing and exporting nutrients, and wherever possible, nutrients be recycled locally to support sustainable agricultural operations.
A third, that nutrients be utilized in farming operations without negative environmental impacts.
It is important that efforts involve the whole Delmarva Peninsula because of the common ecosystem and economy. They are all intertwined, Shea said.
Key findings of the report include the following:
• Land application of animal manure and litter for crop production remains the primary method of managing manure in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. When manure/litter can be land applied at proper agronomic levels, this remains the most cost-effective and technologically feasible method of managing manure.
• Long-term application of manure and other fertilizers on the Delmarva Peninsula has resulted in soils saturated with excess of plant nutrients (phosphorous)
• Progress is being made in reducing nutrient pollution from animal ag operations, through soil testing, nutrient management planning, adoption of conservation best management practices, advancements in precision ag, nutrient use efficiency research and development of alternative use technologies.
However, more must be done to meet the nutrient targets laid out in the watershed’s TMDLs. The policies and practices of the past will not meet the needs of tomorrow, Shea said.
Some of the barriers to progress include fear and erosion in trust; incomplete and/or outdated data documenting the scope, scale and location of poultry-related nutrient pollution; slow evolution and adoption of alternative use technologies; inadequate investments in research, demonstration and monitoring; and what was described as “regulatory hodgepodge” — the proliferation of poorly or nonaligned federal and state agricultural nutrient pollution regulations.
Enter the “win-win pathways.” The work group offers on-going leadership and invites other partners to join to help problem solve. Eighteen organizations, including Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Delaware Department of Agriculture, Delmarva poultry Industry, Inc., Maryland Farm Bureau and three poultry companies, have already been confirmed as partners.
The group has called upon the ag secretaries of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania to standardize and simplify regulations regarding storage, transport and use of litter/manure.
In addition to establishing a leadership platform, immediate goals are to:
• “Develop a plan for establishing and funding a Center of Excellence on the Delmarva Peninsula dedicated to animal agriculture nutrient management support.” This idea, borrowed from the dairy industry, Shea said, would provide a “go-to place.”
• Establish a roadmap for an ongoing integrated research program that models nutrient levels at all levels.
Co-chairmen of the work group are Bobby Hutchison, a Talbot County, Md., grain and vegetable farmer, and Andrew McLean, a poultry grower from Queen Anne’s County, Md. Each explained why he’d gotten involved.
Hutchison said he’d had his “white hat,” a symbol of being one of the good guys, kicked off and so dirtied by pfiesteria that it had become a black hat. “I want my white hat back.”
Hutchison uses 3,000 tons of poultry manure on his acreage when he can get that much, he said. “I’ve always said there was enough land to spread the manure on, but not now.”
There are not enough willing farmers, for fear of lawsuits, he explained.
Land application is important, Hutchison continued, “but the poultry industry is more important. We must do what is necessary so it can survive.”
McLean said he was tired of being strictly reactive. “We need to be proactive. We will not get far by ourselves.”
He described potential partners as “hopefuls” rather than “haters.”
He added, “We need to find a way that agriculture can continue to be profitable and to silence the critics of our industry — and it is an industry.”
Shea concluded, “The challenge is up and running. We need everybody on board.”
To download a copy of the report, go to
For more on the Delmarva Land and Litter Challenge, visit, or contact Ernie Shea at 410-252-7079 or at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .