William Owens | 10/12/2013 1:25:24 AM
HOMER -- Poultry producers from across the state learned about practices to make their operations more environmentally friendly and efficient in presentations made at a field day organized by the LSU AgCenter at the Hill Farm Research Station.
Half of the day was used to show producers research being conducted, and to explain what they can do to improve their operations, while the final half of the day was devoted to classroom work aimed at becoming certified in the Louisiana Master Farmer Program.
Dr. Carrie Castille, Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry associate commissioner, said officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency continue to move ahead with inspections of poultry farms, and the agency has sent information request letters to producers asking about the specifics of their operations, including the number of birds, mortality management and litter management.
She said LDAF Commissioner Mike Strain tried to convince the EPA that the letters were not necessary because producers are making improvements.
“We felt it was not necessary to send these letters,” she said. “Nutrient management is a state issue and should be addressed at the state and local level with the ultimate goal of achieving conservation.”
Dr. Theresia Lavergne, LSU AgCenter poultry specialist, talked about a project to disinfect poultry litter before it is removed from chicken houses. She said neatly piling the material into rows 2-3 feet high and 4-6 feet wide will produce enough heat, roughly 131 degrees, to kill 90-95 percent of the viruses and bacteria in 2 weeks.
The litter needs 30-35 percent moisture to obtain the necessary temperature level of 131 degrees, she said, and a thermometer should be used to make sure adequate heat is reached. She said the rows should be turned every 3-5 days.
Specialized equipment is sold by several companies to make the rows with a tractor, she said. But even with the equipment, the practice is not done quickly, Lavergne said. “If you don’t have enough time, you don’t need to be doing it.”
She said the project being funded by an NRCS grant will continue, and future plans call for comparison of the nutrient level in materials used in wind-rows compared to litter stored in a litter shed that will be built at Hill Farm before the year’s end.
The NRCS grant also will fund four more poultry field days during the next 2 years.
In addition, the NRCS grant is funding a study of the impact of poultry house ventilation fan dust on water quality.
Dr. Bill Owens, LSU AgCenter animal scientist, said the EPA declared that fan dust is a pollutant.
“I am not aware of any published data that substantiates fan dust is an issue or causing a problem,” Owens said.
He said the EPA has pursued enforcement action against some poultry producers on the East Coast. That resulted in a lawsuit in West Virginia that remains pending.
“we need data from our local area on the impact of fan dust before declaring it a problem.” Owens said.
He said a study, also funded by NRCS, will analyze runoff water from two poultry houses at Hill Farm to determine if the dust contains nutrients that affects water quality.
Owens also said producers can use the NRCS Water Quality Index for Agricultural Runoff to assess their individual farms.
Jason Holmes, LSU AgCenter county agent in Union Parish, demonstrated how to calibrate machinery used to spread chicken litter. Material dropped onto a tarp on each of three passes with a manure spreader was weighed, and the average was applied to a formula that determined the tonnage per acre.
Holmes said the method ensures that producers are spreading the proper amount on pastures. He said analysis of the nutrient content should be done before the application.
Allen Hogan of the Louisiana Master Farmer Program said rice farmers are eager to buy chicken litter, but they require an analysis.
Holmes said a computer-guided spreader will provide proper coverage and ensure that litter is spread evenly across a field.
Union Parish poultry farmer Jason Anderson brought his spreader rig to the field day. He said the bed and guidance equipment cost roughly $18,000 but it paid for itself in the first year.
Chris Coreil of the NRCS said the EPA is determined to enforce the Clean Water Act. “Inspection and scrutiny of our waterways will be more intense.”
Coreil agreed that one way of getting rid of litter is to sell it to rice farmers who want soil amendments after laser-leveling their fields.
Coreil said vegetative filter strips are needed to stop or reduce the flow of runoff water from chicken houses, and vegetation buffers 30 wide along streams is something the EPA desires. “It’s the last line of defense.”
Filter strips can simply be an area of tall grass, Coreil said, that will trap the flow of sediment and prevent it from reaching waterways. The area should not be used for grazing, he said.
Also, he said, compacted soil will increase runoff, and the extent of soil compaction can be determined with a device called penetrometer.
The Master Farmer portion of the field day included presentations on Louisiana Scenic Waterways, watersheds, farm sewer systems, a review of NRCS Resource Management Systems, and the federal act related to fuel storage known as the Spill Prevention Containment and Countermeasures.
Attending the field day satisfies completion of the first two phases of the Master Farmer program that include attending a field day and receiving instruction on environmental stewardship, said Dr. Ernest Girouard, coordinator of the LMFP. The final phase is writing and implementing a conservation plan, and that results in certification as a Master Farmer.
Certification is valid for 5 years, Girouard said, and requires 6 hours annually of continuing education.
Obtaining Master Farmer status legally gives producers the presumption that their agricultural enterprises are in compliance with state soil and water requirements, Girouard said. “Becoming a certified Master Farmer means you are doing everything you can to make sure your farm is sustainable and environmentally in compliance.”
However, he said, certification does not prevent the EPA from conducting inspections.
In addition, becoming certified makes NRCS cost-share participation easier, Girouard said.