Perdue Farms Inc., the giant Salisbury-based chicken processor, has teamed with a small Missouri-based company to build the first Eastern Shore factory that will convert chicken manure into pelletized fertilizer.
The $6 million project, which could receive funding from the state, is designed to help rid the Delmarva Peninsula of excess poultry litter in an environmentally friendly manner.
In announcing the initiative, James A. Perdue, chairman of the nation's third-largest poultry processor, said that "both poultry and crop producers are faced with increasing environmental mandates on farming; our goal is to help keep farming viable on the Delmarva Peninsula."
Perdue was referring to the state's new nutrient-management laws aimed at reducing pollution coming from the land, which was suspected of causing the Pfiesteria outbreaks of 1997.
Perdue's partner is AgriRecycle Inc. of Springfield, Mo.
AgriRecycle has applied for funding from Maryland's Animal Waste Technology Fund to help pay for the factory.
The fund was established by the General Assembly last year to provide grants or loans to entrepreneurs who are developing alternatives to land application of chicken manure.
Bradley H. Powers, assistant secretary of agriculture, said the fund has given preliminary approval to AgriRecycle's application, but a final announcement hasn't been made.
He said the state plans to contribute $500,000 to the project over a two-year period.
He said the decision on funding was made before the joint venture was announced.
"That's fine," Powers said of Perdue's role. "We want industry participation. That's a benefit."
Michael Shultz, vice president for public affairs for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, commended Perdue Farms for its effort, saying it was important for the company to take responsibility for the manure.
"This is an important first step to address the major problems of the bay," Shultz said.
"It's good for them to provide leadership for the rest of the industry."
The companies anticipate a plant that would process as much as 120,000 tons of raw poultry litter each year, producing 95,000 tons of pelletized product to be sold as fertilizer.
Shultz said 120,000 tons represents about 15 percent of the poultry manure produced in Delmarva.
Perdue said, "One of the reasons we selected AgriRecycle was because they offered technology that we believe will be the most effective and efficient in helping resolve the nutrient-management issue."
In terms of tonnage, Perdue said, "it would be one of the largest plants of its type in the country." He said they hope to have the facility up and running by the end of the year. It would employ five or six workers.
He said the plan is to locate the plant at a still-to-be-determined site on a rail line.
Perdue said that would enable the plant to ship the pelletized manure to the Midwest. He pointed out that rail cars delivering corn to Delmarva's poultry processors usually leave empty and could be used to carry the manure to other parts of the country.
"Our pelletized litter is an ideal complement for chemical fertilizers as it helps the plant absorb the nutrients in a more effective manner," Mike Ferguson, principal of AgriRecycle, said in a prepared statement.
Ferguson said AgriRecycle had sales of $1 million last year. He said AgriRecycle would supply the technology and the marketing expertise.
Perdue did not see the proposed plant as a major profit center.
"We hope it breaks even in two years," he said. "There are a lot of things we invest in that don't have great returns. There are things we do to stay in business."
Pub Date: 2/25/99