The growing problem of poultry litter

It’s a problem that the poultry industry cannot escape from and is unlikely to go away on its own. What to do with poultry litter!

As the industry has grown, so has the volume of litter being produced. Like anything, once a problem reaches a certain size, costs start growing too.

What to do with litter is under scrutiny around the world, and solutions are being sought in a variety of ways. Using it as manure, or simply burning it, may not be the best options. We will return to the topic of litter later this year, but I thought it might be worth looking at a couple of initiatives in Northern Ireland to see if they might spark the imagination in some way or another or offer potential solutions that can be applied in other parts of the world.

Northern Ireland’s broiler industry produces some 260,000 metric tons of litter each year, and it is forecast that this could rise to 400,000 metric tons within five to 10 years. Traditionally, the local poultry industry has relied on spreading its litter on agricultural land as the primary method for management, but this is no longer sustainable.

And so Invest in Northern Ireland, on behalf of the Northern Ireland Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, and the Northern Ireland Department of Enterprise Trade and Investment are using a Small Business Research Initiative competition to stimulate the development of sustainable and innovative solutions for the use or treatment of litter. This may all sound a bit of a mouthful, but in practice they are looking to find a simple solution to a problem with an increasing impact.

The competition criteria will consider the appropriateness of any technical approach, how sustainability and environmental challenges will be addressed, the degree of innovation, and how this is balanced against project risk and timescales, the technical and commercial viability of the proposal, and the appropriateness of the project management arrangements and financial proposals. Applications must be made by February 20, with contracts being awarded in May this year.

The competition comes on the heels of a review of poultry litter management options and a discussion of anaerobic technology options.

Finding a solution to the issues posed by the production of poultry litter is seen as key to the development of the industry in the province, and its volume is currently acting as constraint to expansion.

This is something that, sooner or later, is likely to be repeated in most markets if it is not happening already, particularly as environmental standards and controls become tighter. Like anything, forewarned is forearmed. It is usually better to address a problem yourself in your own time, and at your own speed, rather than waiting for someone to tell you what to do and following their schedule. So it is probably worth keeping a close eye on developments in Northern Ireland, and should you have any suggestions, drop the Department of Agriculture a line.