‘Manures’ may inform the expansion of poultry and pork in Pennsylvania | Main edition
GRANTVILLE, Pa. – The rapid growth of Pennsylvania’s poultry and hog industries raises a big question: where will all the new manure go?
Robb Meinen, a senior associate at Penn State Extension, would ask this question another way: How will this expansion shape the state’s fertilizers?
Manureshed is the latest takeoff on the watershed, joining the tastes of foodshed and milkshed. It describes the area where manure is created and where it is applied.
“The concept of manure can be national, regional or local,” Meinen said on Oct. 19 at the Keystone Crops and Soils conference.
Pigs and chickens are usually raised in concentrated areas, so the manure they produce may exceed the needs of the farm of origin and necessitate export.
Pennsylvania manure is unusual in that it has a large number of pigs and poultry. In other large production areas one of the species tends to predominate.
Pennsylvania’s pig and poultry fertilizers are different, but these booming sectors have more in common with each other than with the dairy industry.
The number of dairy farms is on the decline in Pennsylvania, so there isn’t much demand for new sites. And rather than exporting manure, dairies often want to conserve their nutrients on the farm to produce animal feed, Meinen said.
For barns and barns, odor complaints are a big concern.
To address such risks, Penn State performs on-demand site assessments for proposed barns.
The largest number of assessments have taken place on potential farms with Country View Family Farms for pigs and Bell & Evans for poultry, Meinen said.
If a site is considered to have a low risk of becoming an odor nuisance, this information can help with obtaining permits and funding.
If the site is a bad choice, the barn could be reoriented or shrunk, the integrator could decide not to contract with that farm, or the farmer could choose a different species to raise.
Only about half of the proposed buildings that receive a site assessment end up being built, Meinen said.
A map of sites assessed over the past 20 years shows that the Pennsylvania hog industry has grown significantly in the north and west of the state, while the poultry industry has continued to grow in its traditional core south-eastern and central counties.
The two industries have good reason to take divergent paths.
For pigs, proximity to other farms creates biosecurity risks, and the smell of their manure can be particularly unpleasant for neighbors. As a result, hog businesses tend to look for isolated sites for new operations.
“They would love to have a new barn that is not around other barns,” Meinen said.
Manure also plays an important role in establishment. Pig manure cannot be transported very far, so new barns must be close enough to farmland to receive the nutrients the farm will generate.
“Nitrogen and phosphorus have to stay near you, if you will,” Meinen said.
At the same time, hog companies want potential producers who will see the nutrients in manure as a benefit to their farm, not a headache for disposal, he said.
The poultry industry, on the other hand, has been keen to reduce the time birds spend in the truck to get to the processing plant.
The Bell & Evans factory in Fredericksburg is centrally located to receive birds from southeastern Pennsylvania and the Ridge-and-Valley province, Meinen said.
Rather than moving the birds to new areas, the poultry industry chose to move the manure.
Unlike pig manure, poultry litter is a solid product, so it can be – and is – transported long distances. Meinen heard of heart litter from Pennsylvania poultry being trucked to western Pennsylvania and New York.
Still, this facet of Pennsylvania manure is a bit difficult to quantify. There’s no system to easily track where all the state’s manure ends up, Meinen said.
Manure is not the only factor taken into account by integrators when contracting new farms. But it can certainly affect the success of building the industry.
“We know we’re going to keep growing, so let’s do it smart,” Meinen said.