Cotton Links


Exploring The Benefits Of Baled Poultry Litter

By Carroll Smith
Senior Writer

When commercial fertilizer prices went through the roof last year, poultry litter resurfaced as an alternative nutrient source.

Fortunately, University of Arkansas (U of A) researchers, led by Dr. Harold Good-win, have been studying poultry litter for quite some time and helped develop a machine capable of baling it into ultraviolet-resistant plastic-wrapped bales.

As noted in a report authored by Goodwin, R.I. Carreira, K.B. Young and E.J. Wailes and published in the Journal of Agricultural and Applied Economics in December 2007, there are no storage costs for baled litter “since the bales are fully plastic-wrapped to preserve nutrients, provide an odor barrier and protect against the weather.” Baled litter also eliminates “additional transport and handling costs from the storage building to the farm field, including storage cleanout and unloading costs.”

Another benefit of baled litter mentioned in the report is that it does not need to be incorporated into the soil because, according to field trials, most of the N content is in organic form.

Poultry Litter Baling Machine

Having followed Dr. Goodwin’s research on poultry litter, Tracy Argo, with White River Fertilizer Supply in Fayetteville, Ark., and his partner bought the U of A baling machine last September and made some adjustments to increase its baling capacity from 12 to 240 tons of poultry litter a day in an eight-hour shift.

“We’ve run this machine for about four months and have identified all the glitches in it,” Argo says. “Now we are designing the next generation ma-chine.” (www.mammothcorp.com).

Whereas Goodwin’s research involved shipping baled litter to eastern Arkansas, Argo is shipping it to 10 farms in the Altus, Okla., area to see how it performs on dryland cotton, sub-surface irrigated cotton and top-irrigated cotton.

Economics And Intangibles

Tom Buchanan, who manages the Lugert-Altus Irrigation District, is one of the 10 western Oklahoma farmers experimenting with baled poultry litter this year on his irrigated cotton land. In the past, he has only had access to commercial fertilizer.

“Last year, when commercial fertilizer went sky high, poultry litter became more economically feasible,” he says. “Last winter, we received the baled litter on a flatbed truck, strategically offloaded it at different locations around the farm, cut the plastic off and used a litter spreader to apply it.”

Buchanan notes that this is his first experience with poultry litter and in addition to the economics, he believes there are some intangibles to consider, too. For example:

• Will it improve humus in the soil?

• Will it build up micronutrients?

• Will it contribute to the water-holding capacity in soils that have been farmed year after year in cotton?

“We have heard that these things will occur, so we want to see to what extent they occur in this climate where we don’t have the rainfall that farmers receive in eastern Oklahoma and Arkansas,” Buchanan explains.

The Oklahoma farmer notes that if commercial fertilizer prices return to what they used to be in the past, then poultry litter won’t be competitive from an economic standpoint. On the other hand, if Buchanan realizes benefits from the intangibles, then it would be of value to him from that standpoint.

Increased Availability

According to Argo, his business plan includes building 300 of the poultry litter baling machines in a five-year period to make the technology available to a wider geography. Argo notes that if, say, 10 farmers bought a machine as a cooperative, hired a four-man crew to run it and ship the baled litter to the 10 farmers in the co-op, they could pay for their machine and get their litter.

An interesting note for cotton farmers is that a module truck can be used to move seven of the bales at one time, which would increase the working hours on a piece of equipment that typically is idle 90 percent of the year.

In looking at the big picture, baled poultry litter may not fit everyone’s operation, but, in this economy, it’s always a good thing to have options. To learn more about baled poultry litter, visit www.baledlitter.com.

Contact Carroll Smith at (901) 767-4020 or csmith@onegrower.com.

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