North Carolina Poultry Farmers Are Ahead of Other States

— Written By James Parsons and last updated by Debra West

Please read the following article “Study: Fertilizing with Poultry Litter at the Right Time” that was printed in the September 26, 2014, issue of World Poultry News. It basically proves what Cooperative Extension and other agencies in North Carolina have been teaching and promoting for several years.

All poultry farms with a capacity of at least 30,000 birds are required to develop and maintain a Waste Utilization Plan. The plan must contain a list of fields that will be used for land application, the crops that will be grown, and the maximum application rate of each field. The World Poultry Article emphasizes apply litter as a nutrient source at the right time of year. As you know, in North Carolina, animal waste is only supposed to be applied 30 days prior to planting, 30 days before a crop breaks dormancy or on an actively growing crop. It looks like farmers and researchers in other states are finally realizing that North Carolina’s proactive stance about nutrient management is the way to go.

Study: Fertilizing with poultry litter at the right time

Using poultry litter as fertilizer is a welcome trend in many southern states of the US because that is where most of the country’s broiler chickens are produced.

The litter’s nitrogen content helps boost crop yields, and also helps reduce farmers’ expenses for commercial fertilizers. But a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) agronomist has found that many farmers in Mississippi may be applying litter at the wrong time of year.

Farmers in Mississippi often apply poultry litter in the fall, months before planting cash crops in the spring, because it’s cheaper then and they have more time than in the spring. But Haile Tewolde, an Agricultural Research Service (ARS) agronomist at Mississippi State, Mississippi, has found that spring is the optimal season for applying litter in the South and Southeast. ARS is USDA’s chief intramural scientific research agency.

Tewolde and his colleagues applied poultry litter in the spring and fall to test plots of corn planted each April for three years. They applied the litter at two rates—four tons per acre and eight tons per acre—and incorporated it into the soil by “disking,” a process that turns the soil and pulverizes it so that the litter blends in with the soil. For comparison, the researchers applied nitrogen fertilizer to other test plots in the spring and fall.

The results showed that over three years, yields were cumulatively higher in plots with litter applied in the spring than in the fall, regardless of the application rate. At the four-ton rate, spring-application yields were 16.7% higher, and at the eight-ton rate, they were 12.8% higher.

The results also showed that while using litter produced less corn than using fertilizer in the first year, those results were reversed in the second and third years. Higher yields in the second and third years were likely because nitrogen in the litter applied during the first year stayed in the soil and benefited crops in subsequent years.

The results, published in 2013 in the Agronomy Journal, show that if growers stick with litter for more than a year, their yields will improve. Yields also will be enhanced if they apply that litter in the spring.

North Carolina State University and North Carolina A& T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U. S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.

James Parsons
Area Specialized Agent, Poultry
NC State University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
N.C. Cooperative Extension, Duplin County Center
P. O. Box 949
Kenansville, NC  28349
Phone: 910.296.2143
Fax: 910.296.2191