Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Missouri (Section 319I - 1994)

Agriculture is one of Missouri's largest industries, and agricultural land covers more than 13 million acres or 70 percent of the state. Agricultural activities that fail to consider water quality present the greatest potential for nonpoint source pollution in Missouri. Therefore, state nonpoint source efforts focus on preventing agricultural NPS pollution.

Poultry Composter Solving Disposal Problems

A rapidly expanding poultry industry, section 319 funds, and a willing partnership among agencies, processing companies, and growers add up to a successful demonstration project. They also equate to a rapidly accepted composting process to solve Missouri's growing waste disposal problem.

Some 88 million broilers and 17 million turkeys are grown annually in Missouri--mostly in the five-county region of Barry, Jasper, Lawrence, McDonald, and Newton--and the - number is expected to double within five years. An estimated 5 percent mortality rate from each flock leaves southwest Missouri with the problem of annually disposing of 17.3 million pounds of dead birds. Traditionally, carcasses have been buried in pits. However, in a karst terrain with fractured limestone, caves, sinkholes, and rapid transit from surface to groundwater, this method threatens water quality. Inadequate pit management also leads to odor problems and the potential to spread disease to other flocks. Burning is seldom used because it is energy intensive, requires high capital outlay and operational costs, and can damage air quality. Missouri was ripe to investigate a new composting method. Composting developed in Maryland and Delaware in the 1980s as an alternative to burial pits that contaminated shallow groundwater. Composting is environmentally sound, practical and easy to use, reduces pathogens, and does not attract insects or produce offensive odors. It stabilizes nutrients, allowing the end product to be safely used to fertilize pastures or cropland.

Composting breaks down organic materials by microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. Dead poultry, litter or "cake" (a mix of bedding material and manure), and straw are layered according to a "recipe" to obtain the appropriate carbon/nitrogen ratio for microorganism growth. The aerobic process excludes bacteria that cause decomposition and offensive odors and produces heat (100-150 degrees F), the key factor in reducing pathogens and preventing insect breeding.

Beginning in 1990, section 319 provided $63,000 of the $99,000 in federal funds. Matching grants from the industry and the state made up the total project cost of $199,000 (Table 7-3). The Southwest Resource Conservation & Development Council (RC&D) provided financial sponsorship and management. Five poultry processing companies (Simmons Industries, Inc; Tyson Foods, Inc; George's; Butterball Turkey Co.; and Hudson Foods) each selected an interested, progressive grower. Growers agreed to operate composters as recommended, keep required records, attend quarterly meetings, and allow and participate in tours and field days at their facilities--within biologically sound guidelines set by the processing companies. Participants, including agency staff, attended State Department of Agriculture biosecurity training and agreed on notification procedures and practices to prevent the spread of disease between flocks. An understanding of biosecurity concerns was key in obtaining a high degree of company cooperation.

In constructing demonstration composter units, growers tailored units to fit their operation and equipment. SCS provided engineering review of building plans and construction oversight. Project funds paid for materials; the industries and growers covered construction costs.

In 1991 and 1992, each demonstration site hosted a field day. University Extension provided information and education activities, including developing a general composting guidance booklet and five guide sheets featuring individual demonstration units. During this period, the project sponsored 10 demonstrations for - specific growers. Three workshops on composting and other poultry waste best management practices were open to all growers, company representatives, agency personnel, and the public. The project continues to provide ancillary tours and training programs for agency staff. Growers and the public are rapidly accepting the composting process. In 1991, the ASCS adopted the poultry mortality disposal process as an acceptable, cost-sharable practice in Missouri.

By September 1992, the five companies estimated that 40 percent of their growers had composter units and were requiring new growers and encouraging existing growers to install composters. In the five-county area, some 7.8 - million pounds of carcasses--45 percent --are being composted annually. From this total, 253,731 pounds of nitrogen, 22,433 pounds of phosphorus, and 7,727 pounds of potassium are being applied to land in a safer, stabilized form, according to an independent project evaluation conducted by Southwest Missouri State University (Tables 7-4, 5, and 6). Other industries have shown interest in the process. Some swine producers are experimenting with composting, with 500-pound whole sows being successfully composted. State trout agencies are composting fish and fish waste from dressing stations, and the state highway agency is investigating composting for animals killed on roads.

Some 20,000 turkeys killed in flash flooding were composted, where once pit burial would have been used. This large-scale experiment successfully provided a quick, safe disposal method; the lessons learned will help the state develop a composting policy and procedure for catastrophic events. The high level of cooperation among participants has resulted in a network and in heightened awareness of environmental concerns. In fact, the SCS and the Missouri Poultry Federation funded an SCS employee for one year to help poultry producers prepare and begin approved waste management plans. In addition, University Extension has produced a guide sheet on composting layer mortalities in its water quality series.

Quick acceptance and adaptation of the composting process likely occurred for several reasons. Initial investment and operational costs are low. The process is forgiving-- ingredients, handling methods, and timing are not critical. Operation and disposal are not aesthetically objectionable. And finally, because of public environmental awareness and pressures, livestock - producers are taking a new look at traditional practices and their environmental impacts.


Jump to main content.