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Water Problems Reduced By Poultry Management
By Crystel Bailey
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Poultry production can decrease the water quality in places where people like to swim and fish, but agricultural specialists are taking steps to manage this problem in Mississippi.
Poultry, Mississippi's No. 1 agricultural product, produces a massive amount of manure, or litter. To use this by-product, producers distribute the litter as phosphorous-rich fertilizer on pastures and forage crops. Excess phosphorous can move into the soil and eventually find its way into surface water.
"When phosphorous builds up in waters, algae and less desirable plants grow that diminish the water habitat and make it undesirable for fishing and swimming," said Larry Oldham, soil specialist at Mississippi State University's Extension Service.
The Nutrient Management and Water Quality Task Force at MSU along with the Southwest Mississippi Resource Conservation Development District are working to develop new ways to manage poultry litter so Mississippians can enjoy the best water quality and maximize the value of their litter.
"We have more litter in the poultry production regions than acres of pastures and forage crops that use this fertilizer. Determining the amount of litter in the state will allow us to know how much more land is needed or how much litter is available for alternative uses," Oldham said.
In the meantime, specialists are expanding the fertilizer value of litter to row crops and turf grass. They are also looking at alternate uses for poultry litter, such as turning litter into a fuel source.
Besides finding nontraditional ways to use litter, specialists and other nutrient management planners are protecting the water by careful planning for traditional uses.
"Nutrient management planning takes into account such things as nutrient content of the by-product, different soil types, distance from field to water and how much litter is used," Oldham said.
Yvonne Thaxton, a professor in poultry science at MSU, said in response to regulatory changes, producers are seeking new ways to minimize the opportunity for phosphorous to seep into surface water. A common change is to do a partial cleanout between flocks rather than removing all the litter from a house.
"We want to help them determine the optimum time to leave litter in the house," Thaxton said.
In addition to developing environmental plans and new uses for litter, specialists are considering the environmental economic impacts of the litter management options.
"Buyers want to know how much it will cost them, so we are determining the costs to transfer the litter from poultry farms to row crop areas in the Delta and other places. We also want to set up a clearinghouse to see who needs litter and who has litter for sale," Thaxton said.
State grants are not only funding efforts to solve the litter supply problem, but they are funding the development of educational tools, such as publications and Web sites, that contain information about poultry management.
"Mississippi farmers once again are making sure their farming practices protect the environment, and everyone will benefit from the improved water quality," Thaxton said.