Poultry litter 'piling up' while farmers wait for nutrient plans

Friday, January 26, 2007

CARROLL COUNTY -- Poultry litter is "piling up" around the county because of new state fertilization regulations that came into effect Jan. 1.

In an effort to lower phosphorus levels in rivers, farmers have been required to obtain nutrient management plans before spreading poultry litter on their land.

Nutrient management plans determine how much manure can safely be applied to individual farm pastures without causing a high risk of phosphorus runoff.

However, the staff with National Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), the agency responsible for devising these plans, is "backed up," said Carroll County Farm Bureau President Rusty Butler. "I know people who have waited a year for a plan."

County Extension Agent Leon Duncan explained that only two NRCS technicians in the county were working off of a waiting list to get the plans done.

The process of developing a plan starts with a soil test, which can be conducted by either the technician or the property owner, then the technician goes to the land and evaluates its slopes, the amount of grass on the property and how well the fields can hold its fertilizer without run off.

"They (the state) knew it would take awhile to develop the plans," said Duncan, "so they stalled the requirements for a year-and-a-half, but they didn't stall it long enough."

Duncan said because of the delay in the writing of the plans, farmers who are waiting and want to spread poultry litter "are out of luck."

"The controversy is -- if you buy regular commercial fertilizer, you can use it at protective (moderated) rate, based on a soil test without a plan," he explained.

Starting two years ago, Duncan said, farmers were required to take a free training class, managed by the Arkansas Natural Resources Commission, and offered at the Carroll County Extension Office, to become a certified private applicator.

After the class, farmers could purchase a $30 permit that allowed them to apply fertilizer to their land.

The permits have to be renewed every five years, "assuming the laws don't change," added Duncan, who also explained that before this requirement, farmers were allowed to spread one-and-a-half tons of poultry litter per acre.

As long as farmers have this permit, they are allowed to purchase and spread commercial fertilizer; however, without an additional nutrient management plan, the spreading of poultry litter is prohibited, he said.

"This is affecting all farms in Carroll County," explained Butler, "because a lot of people buy litter if they don't have it to put on their property, but now they have to have a plan to use it, so the poultry farmer can't use it or sell it.

"It's going to be a big problem in the spring," he continued, "when farmers want to put it on for grass, but right now it is just piling up in stack sheds."

Butler went on to say that they are "proving more and more" that the majority of the phosphorus pollution comes from the city and "very few" farmers applied too much fertilizer before the regulations were put in place.

"A farmer would be the last one to pollute his place because you are going to be on that land for quite a while, and most likely pass it down to family," said Butler. "So, you don't see that much pollution from farmers."

During a recent Farm Bureau breakfast meeting, Butler said many local farmers told attending legislators that they were "upset" because they thought they should be able to use poultry litter if they were able to use commercial fertilizer.

"(Rep.) Bryan King has introduced a bill to get it to where you can spread until you get your plan," said Butler.

The same requirements have also been placed on 12 other nutrient-surplus counties in Arkansas, including Benton, and parts of Washington, Boone and Madison and "down the Oklahoma/Arkansas line south," said Duncan.

The next training session to receive a private applicator permit has been scheduled for Monday, Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. in the Carroll Electric Pioneer Room in Berryville.

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