Farmers flock to Beebe on poultry litter lawsuit

ARKANSAS - The economy of Northwest Arkansas and the rest of the state could be hit hard if a battle over water quality in the Illinois River watershed kills poultry farming in the region, said Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe.

Beebe spoke to hundreds of farmers in two meetings Tuesday about a lawsuit Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson filed in a federal court in Tulsa in June. Beebe has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case.

"This could affect the viability of the family farm and your way of life here," Beebe told farmers Tuesday.

The poultry industry accounts for 40 percent of gross receipts in the state, said Stanley Reed, president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. A lawsuit filed by Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson that would declare chicken litter a hazardous substance could endanger the economy statewide, he said.

Reed, Beebe and Randy Young, director of the state Natural Resources Commission, spoke to farmers from Oklahoma and Arkansas on Tuesday at a farm in Lincoln and again Tuesday night in Fayetteville at the Pauline Whitaker Center on the University of Arkansas campus.

Poultry farms in the region produce thousands of tons of chicken litter every year. Farmers use the litter to fertilize pasture and grazing land for cattle.

The fertilizer is vital to the production of hay and to cattle farming in the area, said Gary Proctor, who farms with his son, Darren, in Lincoln.

"If they take the poultry litter away from us, we're out of business," Proctor said.

But phosphorus and other nutrients from the litter are entering the Illinois River and its tributaries and degrading water quality, Edmondson claims.

"Sure, poultry litter is a contributor (of phosphorus), but it's not the only contributor," Beebe said Tuesday.

Source: Arkansas News Bureau
calendar icon 18 January 2006
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