When Oklahoma’s  “poultry litter” trial resumes next Wednesday in Tulsa, there might be six weeks of trial ahead.  In the end, however, Judge Gregory Frizzell will have to choose between tamping down on spreading poultry litter on the land as fertilizer or further polluting the Illinois River.

Yes, it really comes down to what to do with what writer J.S. Hood of Broken Arrow, OK calls “Poultry Poop.”

“Poultry poop, let’s call it what it is,” says J.S., “is polluting Oklahoma’s water.  Water we boat in, float in, ski in, fish in, and swim in.  Yes, in case of the Illinois River, it all ends up in one place, Lake Tenkiller, which only 15 years ago was a clear Ozark mountain lake.”

Chicken farmers fear the lawsuit Oklahoma has brought against the big chicken companies across the river in Arkansas will mean not only losing a revenue source, but being forced to pay disposal fees.

What if there was another option?  What if the chicken farmers could sell poultry litter for a use that would not result in running off into the watershed?  What if there was a technical solution?

Some say biomass energy plants are the solution.

  • Northern Ireland’s Rose Energy is building a waste -to-energy biomass power plant at Glenavy as “the only viable solution for the poultry sector,” says Osvaldo Mauro-Hun, chief executive officer of the company.  European Union regulations to control nitrates currently threaten 7,000 direct poultry industry jobs in the Belfast area.
  • Pennsylvania’s Fibrowatt LLC is a developer, builder, owner and operator of poultry litter-fueled power plants.  Its first project was the 55-megawatt Fibrominn biomass power plant in Benson, MN, which began commercial operation two years ago. Fibrowatt LLC is actively working on projects in Arkansas, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Future projects are planned for Alabama, Texas and other states.
  • The 340,000 tons of “poultry litter” produced annually in the Illinois River Basin would be enough to fuel a typical size biomass energy plant.  Currently, any “poultry litter” that cannot be disposed of as fertilizer spread on land in the immediate area must be trucked out of the area.

Since Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson sued the poultry companies, about 290,000 tons of “poultry litter” has been trucked away.   Trucking the poultry litter, along with improved application practices, cause some observers to say water quality has improved since Oklahoma’s lawsuit against the Arkansas-based chicken industry was brought four year ago.

Hauling “poultry waste’ out of the area is not cheap.  A local biomass plant would give local chicken farmers who contract with the big poultry companies another revenue option by providing a new “green” fuel source to the plant, which would generate electricity it could sell to the local power grid.

The current system is easy and cheap for the big chicken companies.  They contract with local farmers to raise chickens, and then leave the poultry waste problem behind.  Runoff from fields dumps nutrients with all sorts of bacteria into the river causing algae blooms and threatening water users.

Jack Spears, owner of Arrowhead Resort on the Illinois River, is one who says water quality has improved in recent years.  “If I was in [the poultry companies’] position, I’d say, ‘Hey, let’s police our act.  Let’s clean up our act or we will be forced to by somebody else’,” Spears said.

Spears, like others, thinks water quality has improved since Oklahoma’s litigation against the poultry industry was filed.

The defendants in the Oklahoma lawsuit against the poultry industry include: Tyson Poultry Inc., Tyson Chicken Inc., Cobb-Ventress Inc., Cargill Turkey Production L.L.C., George’s Inc., George’s Farm Inc., Peterson Farms Inc., and Simmons Food Inc.

Pictured: The “poultry litter” biomass plant in Benson, MN