Guest Blog: Don’t Ban Organics . . . Here’s Just One Reason Why
John Weiss, the founder of Chickitty Doo Doo fertilizers in Wisconsin, responded to yesterday’s blog post with this thorough explanation of his operation. We decided to post it here to give it a bit more attention:
I agree with the basic premise of your blog that these legislators have good intentions, but do not know that their actions have consequences relative to organic fertilizers. One of the reasons we got into the manure business is that we really felt we had a win-win solution. That is, we knew being chicken farmers ourselves with a cage-free / organic operation, that the poultry industry has a problem with the disposal of raw manure in a concentrated area.
The cheapest way for a farmer to get rid of his or her manure waste is to spread it in its raw form as close as possible to the farm (saving on labor and fuel). With confined feeding operations (CAFOs), we have such high concentrations of manure near these farms and that manure has been spread on the same adjacent land for decades, that we have phosphorus levels off the charts. (>200ppm) The main grain crops of corn, alfalfa and soybeans use more nitrogen during their formation than they do phosphorus. Hence, the buildup of phosphorus in soils that has accumulated over the last several decades.
We are in discussions with a Pennsylvania egg farm that trucks its manure 100-150 miles from the farm because the land near the farm has such high concentrations of P in its soil. Further, raw manure is 60-90 percent moisture — making it much more susceptible to runoff during rains or melting of snow. Most importantly, we came to understand that while these confined animal operations create products that are shipped all over the country, whether it’s eggs, meat or milk, the manure generated from all of that food production remains close to the farm. What needs to happen is that the manure generated has to follow the main product out to the rest of the country. In order to follow the main product, the manure needs to be changed in such a way to make that happen (i.e. you can’t put raw chicken manure in a Scott’s spreader).
The reality is that manure, or sewage sludge for that matter, has to go somewhere. We are not going to stop eating nor are we going to stop flushing our toilets. We need to put the waste in a form that has the following characteristics:
1) Is volume reduced through dehydration to 10-15% moisture so it can be economically shipped and stored (it is expensive to ship water)?
2) Is odor reduced so that it is at least non-offensive for the avearge user?
3) Is comparable to synthetic fertilizers on performance (we are there)?
4) Is it no greater than 20 percent higher in cost as compared to synthetics for the end user (we are there)?
Our process (and those of other organic fertilizers) accomplish these items and are improving on these areas all the time. For example, we have begun to “prill” our composted chicken manure into the shape of a perfect sphere rather than granulate which is flat and has jagged edges. This prill spreads better and is closer to the perfect sphere that synthetic manufacturers create. We are adding an organic oil that reduces the odor and in fact has a pleasant smell. These are the attributes of Chickity Doo Doo 2.0. The reality is we need to do a better job to make it a no-brainer for consumers and professionals to use organic fertilizers. We are not there yet, but we will be.
My main point is that our nation has been sloppy, cheap and somewhat lazy in dealing with the nutrients in our manure waste. We import 57 percent of our nitrogen, mostly from Russia, but we have 250 million egg laying chickens in the United States that produce 5 million tons of raw manure per year. That’s 500 million POUNDS of Nitrogen — that would cover a lot of lawns, golf courses and farm fields. Right now, we at Chickity Doo Doo process all of the manure from 1 million of those 250 million chickens — so we have a ways to go. And that’s just egg laying chickens. How much natural gas would be saved in replacing all of that synthetic fertilizer with our organic composted chicken manure prills? Moreover, we could more properly use the nutrients, including P, that we already have to find a home for.
That is what is so frustrating about these blanket phosphorus ban laws — they do not take into account a comprehensive solution on controlling P. Thankfully, Wisconsin legislators did take this into account and most reasonable lawmakers will as well.
That is why I appreciate your help on this issue. It truly is a great opportunity to promote organic fertilizers if framed the right way.