Chicken Litter: The Aerial Hunt for Poultry Manure
By LAUREN ETTER
Ocean City, Md.
Retired Marine officer Rick Dove boarded the four-seat Cessna armed with cameras, binoculars and global positioning devices for his latest mission: chicken farmers. Or, more precisely, aerial reconnaissance of poultry droppings.
"Oh, man, that looks like a hot site," Mr. Dove said as the plane soared 1,000 feet over farms near the Chesapeake Bay. Peering through binoculars, he said, "That pile is at least two stories high." He whipped out his camera and started snapping pictures.
Mr. Dove, 70 years old, suspected the brown mound was chicken manure -- a potential pollutant of the Chesapeake Bay, the huge estuary nestled between the shores of Maryland and Virginia. Mr. Dove, a former military judge whose subsequent fishing business he believes was ruined by pollution, is among the activists who, along with federal regulators, are ratcheting up pressure on poultry farmers to clean up their litter.
Around the Chesapeake area, where poultry farming is big business, chicken farmers think they have been unfairly singled out. "The EPA seems to think that poultry farmers are Public Enemy No. 1," says Bill Satterfield, executive director of the Delmarva Poultry Industry Inc., which represents the area's poultry industry. Citing EPA data, he notes that bay pollution also comes from numerous nonfarm sources linked to the area's population growth, including human sewage and lawn fertilizer. Even animals such as deer and Canada geese can contaminate water, Mr. Satterfield says. But, he adds, "It appears you're guilty until you prove yourself innocent."
The EPA says agriculture, including chemical fertilizers and animal waste, is the single biggest source of pollution in the bay. Manure alone makes up about 19% of the bay's overall nitrogen pollution and 26% of the bay's phosphorus pollution. Municipal and wastewater facilities generate the same amount of nitrogen pollution, but less -- 21% -- phosphorous pollution.
Certainly everyone is interested in having the bay be as clean as possible. The interesting thing from this article though is that pollution from human waste is very similar to the estimates coming from food production. Why don’t we ever see the Waterkeeper’s Alliance brings lawsuits against cities for their pollution? The fact of the matter is that they are mostly an anti-agriculture group as much as anything. They aren’t interested in finding better ways to handle organic fertilizer, they just want to shut these farms down. Clean water is very important to everyone, but the strategies to accomplish it need to be science based rather than agenda based.