The poultry industry in Maryland is one of the nations’ largest and contributes more than $700 million annually to the Maryland economy. In this report I will talk about some of the negative aspects of the industry such as pollution to the environment, political motives/decisions, and also some alternative solutions for the vast pollution.
Since we don’t have time for a history lesson I’ll jump right into the negative externalities that the poultry industry imposes on Maryland. Agriculture, according to the EPA, is the largest single source of pollutants and sediments in the Chesapeake Bay. The main pollutant, nitrogen, is derived mostly from the 650 million pounds of chicken manure that poultry produce annually. Inevitably, some of this excess chicken manure finds its way to the Chesapeake Bay by means of runoff from storms and further pollutes the estuary. The nitrogen and phosphorous deposits can cause algae blooms to develop which in turn deplete the oxygen levels needed by aquatic life (i.e. crabs / oysters) to survive, and finally hurt the Chesapeake fishermen’s industry by means of job loss.
Why hasn’t anything been done? Simply put: Politics. As mentioned earlier, the poultry industry nets +$700 million annually, and although the pollution factors may ultimately take jobs away from the watermen, get this: for every one job added on a chicken farm, it is estimated that seven related jobs are created in slaughterhouses, construction, and trucking. Not to mention that Maryland is one of the only states where the poultry industry is regulated by the State Department of Agriculture; whose primary mission is helping farmers. Although legislations have been proposed to curb the effects of the pollution such as permits to handle manure, Farmers have defeated such efforts twice in the past. Lawmakers have even given them options like to either maintain a 35 ft wide filter strip of vegetation along streams and ditches or to not spread manure within 50 feet of streams or 10 feet of ditches. Unannounced inspections would occur and if the farmer is caught in violation they can face hefty fines. This method allows the liability for the manure to be placed on the farmer rather than the larger companies who provide the chickens and feed.
Some alternative uses for the chicken manure have been suggested while some are already in effect in other states. For example, some agricultural farms recycle the chicken manure at a factory that produces fertilizer pellets and ships/sells the product elsewhere. Other companies, like Waste to Energy Plants (WTE), are using the poultry waste to turn biomass into biogas. The biogas product can be used for steam or electricity generation and possibly heat/light homes in the local area or be sold to other companies.
I think the fertilizer pellets are a great idea to keep the waste out of the Bay. Also, if I were a farmer of large operations that produced tons of biomass waste, I would open up a second business, that produces organic flowerpots and other such products from biomass. This way the farms can become even more efficient by selling their waste to consumers in the form of goods. I also believe that the WTE plants are a great idea. I don’t know how cost effective they are, but I don’t see the harm in using biogas to cut down on energy prices.
-- Mark Preston