Disposal of chicken waste

Processor permits: State to require poultry plants to share farmers' burden for manure controls.

April 05, 1999

MARYLAND is taking the lead in making huge poultry processors responsible for disposal of manure pollution from chicken farms. It is a commendable action to stem the flood of farm pollutants into the Chesapeake Bay.

Eastern Shore processors would have to ensure proper, legal disposal of chicken wastes by contract farmers who raise poultry for their plants. The requirement would be part of the plants' water-discharge permits issued by the Department of the Environment.

Chicken processors might threaten to move to friendlier nearby states to avoid that burden, which has been shouldered solely by the contract growers. But the Environmental Protection Agency is endorsing a similar national strategy for processors, which supply chicks and feed to the growers who raise them six weeks until slaughter. EPA action is important to level the states' playing field.

Only three Maryland chicken processing plants now discharge wastewater into state waters, requiring a joint state-federal permit. Two others send their effluent to municipal sewage plants for treatment and discharge.

The state included the runoff-responsibility provision in a draft permit sent Perdue Farms a year ago. The poultry giant challenges Maryland's legal authority.

Nearly 300 million broilers are grown in Maryland annually, generating more than 400,000 tons of manure. Those figures double for the entire Delmarva chicken industry.

Disposal of such massive amounts of animal waste is a major challenge; some Delmarva croplands are so oversaturated with animal fertilizer they can't absorb further applications. Last year Maryland became the first state to limit how much chicken manure can be spread as fertilizer.

Perdue plans a $6 million plant to convert 120,000 tons of chicken manure a year into small, easily stored fertilizer pellets. Connectiv Inc. wants to convert its power plant in Vienna, Md., to burn chicken waste instead of oil. Transporting waste to farmland that needs fertilizer is another idea. There's a million-dollar state fund to develop manure disposal alternatives.

Making chicken processors share the disposal responsibility, and state aid, can only accelerate those beneficial efforts.

Pub Date: 4/03/99

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