More Poultry Litter Applied to Illinois River Watershed

OKLAHOMA, US - There has been a six per cent increase in poultry litter application to land draining to the Illinois River in the last two years.
calendar icon 6 September 2011
clock icon 4 minute read

Poultry litter application on land lying within Oklahoma's Illinois River watershed appears to be on the rise despite increased awareness of water quality concerns, according to Muskogee Phoenix.

Some say the data in a series of reports from various state agencies are not surprising. Others say the numbers misrepresent what actually is occurring within the watershed.

Still, tracking reports show the application of poultry wastes on land within the Oklahoma side of the Illinois River watershed increased by more than six per cent from 2008 to 2010.

Reports published by the Oklahoma Conservation Commission show 41,661 tons of poultry waste was applied in Adair, Cherokee and Delaware counties during the 2008 reporting period. In 2010, that number increased by 2,535 tons, totalling 44,196 tons.

Former Attorney General Drew Edmondson, who filed a 2005 pollution lawsuit against 14 poultry companies said he is not surprised by the increase.

He commented: "I believe the industry made a show of corporate responsibility in the years leading up to the trial. But once the trial started and data was no longer being collected for litigation purposes, they felt free to go back to their prior behaviour."

Gary Mickelson, a spokesman for Tyson Foods, described Edmondson's comments as inaccurate. He said Tyson "continues to provide financial assistance to contract poultry farmers to promote the removal of litter from the watershed and has done this for at least five years".

A state agriculture official said the apparent increase could be due to the evaporation of federal funds previously used to entice buyers who shipped litter outside the watershed. To support the hypothesis, Quang Pham pointed to the application decline of more than 16.6 per cent in fiscal year 2009 before it rebounded the following year.

Pham, an environmental engineer with the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, said data collected by that agency show only 34,733 tons of poultry waste were applied that year in the three northeastern Oklahoma counties.

Most of Adair County and parts of Cherokee and Delaware counties make up most of the Illinois River watershed that lies within Oklahoma.

"The end of the programmes may have contributed to the increase in application," Pham said.

While federal funding for those incentives has dried up, Pham said there are other subsidised programmes that coordinate the transfer of poultry wastes outside the watershed.

Sheri Herron, executive director of BMPs Inc., said the non-profit organisation she heads has shipped nearly 400,000 tons of poultry waste outside the Illinois River watershed during the past five years.

Ms Herron said BMPs' Litter Link program, which is subsidised by the poultry industry, continues to expand. After its first year of operating in 2006, the programme assisted with the transfer of 59,523 tons. In 2010, BMPs recorded litter transfers totalling 101,599 tons.

To read the full article in Muskogee Phoenix, click here.

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