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Poultry Litter Is Focus Of Grant
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Grants of nearly $240,000 are allowing Mississippi State University to partner with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture Research Service to study a Mississippi environmental concern with national implications.
Dr. Larry Oldham, Mississippi State University Extension Service soil specialist, said land application of animal manures is one of the most important issues facing American agriculture.
"In the southeast United States, broiler production is geographically concentrated in small areas around processing plants," Oldham said. "The broiler litter and manure is commonly used as a fertilizer for forages and pastures. After many years of litter application to pastures, soil test phosphorus levels have apparently increased."
The grants will allow the Extension Service, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and USDA researchers to learn the effects of this fertilizer application on nutrient uptake, soil nutrient status and runoff water quality.
"Soil phosphorus is attached closely to soil particles and traditionally has not been thought to not move unless there is erosion," Oldham said. "Recent scientific evidence indicates that in high soil phosphorus situations there may be movement of soluble phosphorus not attached to soil particles."
What that means for the environment is that this phosphorus may end up in surface streams and lakes, promoting the growth of undesirable plants and algae.
"With this research, we want to demonstrate best management practices that store phosphorus and reduce its likelihood of moving off the field," Oldham said. "We also want to develop management systems that maximize the plant use of litter sources of phosphorus."
Working with Dr. Diane Hite, MAFES ag economist, and Dr. Billy Kingery, MAFES agronomist, Oldham received a $74,000 grant from USDA-Cooperative State Research, Extension and Education System. This money was coupled with $165,000 in special research initiatives from the state legislature through MAFES.
The money is being used to establish an experiment at the MAFES Coastal Plain Experiment Station to evaluate grazing and forage management systems' effect on runoff water quality. A pasture is being divided into small watersheds where cattle will graze, simulating real-life situations farmers face.
Joey Murphey, superintendent of the Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Newton, said 12 paddocks will be constructed this fall, each two acres in size. Twenty-seven steers will graze nine of these, while the remaining three will be used for hay production.
Murphey said two plot experiments have been started and others are planned for the fall. Water quality runoff studies will be conducted in each of the paddocks.
"We've got a yield plot where we're measuring bermudagrass yield treated with various rates of poultry litter," Murphey said. "An adjacent plot is testing poultry litter, commercial fertilizer and a combination of both."
Dr. Geoff Brink, USDA-Agriculture Research Service agronomist, said the work is divided into three phases. Results from the test plots at Newton will be compared to a similar soil on a poultry producer's farm in Mize. This farm, owned by David Ware, has received poultry litter for about 25 years and has much higher nutrient levels than the Experiment Station test plot.
"We began treatments this year to look at different forage and litter management practices that will affect fertility levels of the soils," Brink said. "Our objectives are to assist the poultry producer in reducing the accumulation of nutrients in the soils and also to examine how different litter management practices affect plant nutrient uptake."
The grazing experiment is practical because poultry and cattle production are closely linked. Poultry litter is an excellent fertilizer for forage used to feed cattle.
"We want to look at practices that involve cattle and learn what affect they have on soil nutrient levels and the impact it might have on nutrient runoff from the field," Brink said.
A future phase will look at poultry production's impact on the water quality of an entire watershed.
Hite is studying ways to avoid over applying poultry litter in an area. She is also looking at economical transportation of the litter and the environmental benefits of it leaving the area.
"Farmers in other parts of the state should be willing to pay to receive this litter," Hite said. "In addition to offering nutrient value and serving as a good soil amendment, transporting it out of the area would avoid pollution by overapplication."